Luke 19:1-10
A Life-changing Encounter by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.  Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.  When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."  And he came down quickly and received him with joy.  When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."  But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."  And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

Why did Zacchaeus climb the sycamore tree?  He was a wealthy man.  He was a leader in his profession in the important city of Jericho.  He possessed what many people dream about all their lives: a lucrative job and the finer things that life has to offer.

Yet, something drove him to climb the tree that day in an effort to catch a glimpse of Jesus.  Was it simple curiosity?  Did he just want to lay his eyes on a famous healer and preacher?  Was he crafting a new business scheme, a way to capitalize on the crowds that were following the man from Nazareth?  Or was Zacchaeus longing for something else, something deeper, something to give greater meaning to his life?

Regardless of his reason, Zacchaeus' elevation to the perch in the tree leads to a life-changing encounter.  Jesus, intending to pass through the city, stops suddenly at the foot of the tree, looks up at the chief tax collector and invites Himself to his home for a meal.

Zacchaeus' reaction suggests that in this brief encounter, Jesus communicates to him something very profound.  Jesus' look, His tone of voice, and His bold invitation to dine at Zacchaeus' house pierces his heart, quickens his step and fills him with unexpected joy. "And he came down quickly and received him with joy."  There is something very special about this Jesus of Nazareth that was already bringing new life to him.  He is energized by this encounter.

There is a second stage to Zacchaeus' encounter.  The light and love that emanates from Jesus makes clear to Zacchaeus his own darkness and sinfulness.  Although he does not comprehend it at first, when the tax collector comes into the presence of God, he is moved to see his sins and repent. "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."

The tax collectors in Jesus' times became rich by extracting from Jews more than what they actually owed the Romans.  They pocketed the money and became rich by extorting from their fellow Jews.  This is their sin.  This is why they were despised by the people and excluded from the temple by law.

Zacchaeus' great act of repentance includes restitution for his sins.  He makes plans to repay those from whom he had extorted.  In fact, he offers to pay them back fourfold.  This is more than what is demanded by law.  It is a generous act by one who is truly sorry and aware of the consequences of his sins.

What does Zacchaeus have to say to me in 2010?

First, he climbed the sycamore tree.  What efforts have I made to encounter Christ lately?  Do I need a retreat?  Am I going to Mass regularly and with a good disposition?  Have I been devoting time to read, pray with and study the sacred Scriptures?  Have I been seeking the face of Jesus among the poor, the elderly, the young and the handicapped?  Do I spend enough time with other Christians building community and finding encouragement?

Second, Zacchaeus made changes in his life.  He repented and made restitution for his sins.  Am I allowing fear, stubbornness, laziness or selfishness to keep me from making necessary changes in my life?  Am I content with a half-hearted, mediocre response to God's amazing grace in my life?  Am I closing myself off to the fire of the Holy Spirit that wants to purify my heart and increase my zeal for spreading the good news of Jesus in my little corner of this world?

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