The 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time at St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Wisdom 11, 22-12, 2 + Psalm 145 + 2 Thessalonians 1, 11-2, 2 + Luke 19, 1-10

October 30, 2016

The first reading today draws our attention away from the visit of Jesus at the home of Zacchaeus to consider the constant searching of God for those who are lost. That shift of focus might be a good thing. Like the previous two weeks, this episode has many details that can lead us in many directions none of which are necessarily wrong. In fact, Luke’s purpose in placing this episode in his narrative might well have more to do with wealth and the use of it than what our Church proposes by setting the reading from Wisdom ahead of it. Luke has a lot to say about wealth and riches in many places within his Gospel.

The very name of this man can begin to raise a question about what is going on here. The simple easy reading of the story would leave us to suppose that this is about Zacchaeus being saved and being converted by the response and the visit of Jesus. But his name means “Clean” or “Pure.” If “Clean and Pure” is what this man is, then perhaps the focus of the story is not really or entirely about him. While Zacchaeus may have been looking for Jesus, maybe Jesus was not really looking only for Zacchaeus that day.

The problem for Zacchaeus is not that he is short, or that he is a tax collector. If you can tolerate one more Greek word reference, the word Luke uses for “short” is not only used as a measurement. It can also be translated as “least” especially when used in the superlative which is exactly the way Luke uses the word. So more than something about his stature, Luke is telling us something about what other people think of him. He is the “least”, the lowest, the “least respected”, or simply judged so by others. He is marginalized, shunned, scorned, and avoided by those others who by judging him pump up their own ego and self-respect. When you begin to understand these details, there is suddenly a parallel here with the Gospel of last Sunday and those two men praying in the temple.

If Zacchaeus is the “pure” or “clean” one, it is not Zacchaeus that Jesus has really come to save. In fact, the behavior of Zacchaeus would give us reason to think that he really was a good man doing far more with what he had than was ever required. As Luke tells this part of the story, this “giving” by Zacchaeus is in the present tense. He is already doing that. It is not something he promises to do in the future because Jesus came. The focus then shifts to those who have judged him, pushed him outside their social circle, and not welcomed him. Many in that crowd have done the same thing to Jesus, judged, condemned, scorned, and tried again and again to trap him and discredit his works and his words. Jesus and Zacchaeus have a lot in common. 

On his part, Zacchaeus has desired to see Jesus and he made the first effort to establish the relationship and make contact with Jesus being then rewarded with this divine guest. The crowd on the other hand stand back and murmur critically not about Zacchaeus, but about Jesus leaving us to see that it is the crowd who need to be “found” or “saved”. It is the crowd who need to see Jesus. In fact, then, it is any crowd or any people, who judge, alienate, criticize, scorn, and despise another child of God. So this Sunday, the tables get turned on us, so to speak. Things are not always what they seem to be, but either way, the Son of Man has come to search out and save what is lost. Zacchaeus was not the lost one. That murmuring crowd with their scornful attitude and quick judgements are the lost. Let us make certain that we are not among them with our judgements and scorn so that we might rejoice to discover that the Lord has come to stay with us.

Father Tom Boyer