Minister’s Forum: Zacchaeus a model for repenting sins
On the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time the universal church celebrates readings from the Book of Wisdom (11:22-12:2) and Luke (19:1-10). The Book of Wisdom cautions us that God rebukes “offenders little by little, warns them and reminds them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord.”
God calls all of us to repentance – to submit our will to God’s will in our own earthly journey to Paradise. He challenges us to abandon our wickedness and to pursue virtues.
Two virtues stand out in Luke’s Gospel passage (19:1-10). Obviously aware of the earlier passage from the Book of Wisdom, Luke exhorts us to pursue honesty and humility.
There are four major “figures” in Luke’s Gospel: Jesus the Redeemer, Zacchaeus the chief tax collector “and a rich man,” the hecklers in the crowd who criticized Jesus for keeping company with public sinners and for dining with them, and the sycamore tree, whose short trunk and lateral branches serve as a reminder of God’s love and mercy.
As a collaborator of the Roman government, Zacchaeus was regarded as a traitor to the Jews, because he practiced what is referred to as the “farming out method” of tax collection. Rome assigned a set amount that had to be collected from each region, but whatever was collected beyond that amount was kept by the tax collector. A particularly skillful tax collector could enrich himself at the expense of the public. Apparently, Zacchaeus was so successful that he became very rich in Jericho.
Hiding in the lush branches of the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus was spotted in the tree by Jesus who invited him to come down quickly and to prepare dinner for him at his home. Blessed with the gift of conversion, Zacchaeus repented of his sins and promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay “four times” whatever he had extorted from the public.
Zacchaeus serves as a role model for all of us. God calls us to conversion and repentance if only we admit our guilt with humility and honesty. Salvation requires compliance with God’s commandments and the pursuit of good works. The eight beatitudes are a reminder that we must “love our neighbor as ourself.”
Jesus singled out public sinners for special attention during the three years of his public ministry. As Jesus pointed out, the healthy have no need of my services. Today our churches are filled with those who want to do God’s will by identifying with “saint” Zacchaeus, who epitomizes the heroic virtues, which are representative of Christian discipleship then and now.
– Fr. Richard DeMolen is a pastor at Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church.