Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church Norman, OK
Wisdom 11, 22-12, 2 + Psalm 145 + 2 Thessalonians 1,11 -2,2 + Luke 19, 1-10
“Come down.” says Jesus to Zacchaeus. “Come down” says Jesus to you and me when we pick up this piece of Luke’s Gospel. “Come down, down from our arrogance and smug ways, down from your hoarding of this earth’s bounty, down from your power, down from your privilege and prestige. Come down from your pride and from your grudges. Come down from jealousies and ambitions, superiority and judgments. Come down from everything and anything that keeps us from Joy.
Look at what happens to Zacchaeus when he comes down. He is filled with Joy. All that stuff he had accumulated had never brought him anything lasting. Maybe a moment or two of fleeting happiness, but never a hint of Joy, and it certainly never let him hear those words: “I must stay at your house today.”
This joyless world too busy pursing happiness never finds Joy. A life dedicated to the pursuit of happiness never tastes the salvation offered by Christ. This story of Joy and salvation reveals to us the path to joy and the way of salvation. Look at the movements in the life of Zacchaeus. First there is attraction. He wants to see Jesus. Without that attraction, there is nothing left to do but “pursue happiness”. So, all of life becomes one big pursuit, one big chase after an illusion. Zacchaeus however was finished with that pursuit of wealth and power and riches. He wanted to see Jesus: attraction.
The attraction then leads to a dialogue. Jesus speaks to him and Zacchaeus responds not just with words, but with action. He came down, and he came down quickly. The dialogue between them leads to conversion. Zacchaeus turns away from that pursuit, and that conversion leads to his repentance with his more than amble restitution four times over. The consequence of that Joyful attraction, dialogue, conversion, and repentance is a proclamation we all long to hear: “Today Salvation has come to this house.”
The welcome offered by Zacchaeus is more than a welcome to his home. It is at first a welcome into his heart. This is what brings Salvation, a heart attracted to and in prayer (dialogue) with Christ; and a life of continual conversion and repentance. These are the steps to Joy and to Salvation. The courage of Zacchaeus is remarkable. The strength of his attraction and his desire just to see Jesus brings him into sharp conflict with the whispering and grumbling crowd. It is the challenge still faced by those who are still really attracted to Jesus and the life Jesus invites us to share. The challenge to do something different, to be something different, the challenge to run ahead and climb a tree, to ignore the pressure and the grumbling of others is a challenge faced by anyone who awakens to that attraction that starts it all.
How tragic it might have been if Zacchaeus would have done what the crowd expected, if their grumbling would have kept him on the ground out of sight and out of hearing the invitation to “Come Down.”
I would like to image that had he stayed on the ground, had he bent to the opinion and the grumbling of the crowd, he would have spent the rest of his life saying the words that have marked with sadness far too many lives: “If only I had…..” I’ve come to believe that those words are the most and sad and tragic words we ever hear. “If only I had said something.” “If only I had done something.” “If only……If only….. Tragic regret over missed opportunities scars human history, and has led far too many a long way from Joy and from the Joyful One, Christ Jesus.
So we tell the story of Zacchaeus again precisely because it is not a story of regret and missed opportunity. It is the story of a Joyful life full of the promise of Salvation. “Come down.” says Jesus once again. “I must stay in your house today.”