Dear Friends in Christ,
As sinners go, Zacchaeus was a ‘big fish’ or perhaps it would be better to say a ‘big shark’. As a chief tax collector, he was responsible for other tax collectors and no doubt very experienced in the dark art of exploiting and cheating others. There was a real sense of venom and hatred for these traitors – they were seen as the scum of the earth, the lowest of the low. Ironically, the name Zacchaeus means ‘innocent’ or ‘pure’, but there was nothing pure and innocent about him. His wealth was the fruit of a corrupt tax system in which the Jewish tax collectors secured their own piece of the pie by charging a further levy and skimming off for themselves. They were literally getting wealthy on the back of others.
It might not be much of an exaggeration to say that Zacchaeus was as loathed and despised by the general public as a drug dealer or drug baron might be today. Imagine then the shock and indignation that would be caused if Pope Francis invited himself to dine at such a drug baron’s or drug dealer’s house. Pandemonium would break out at the knowledge that the head of the Catholic Church was associating with such people. But what if our drug baron or drug dealer truly gave his life to the Lord and became a Catholic! Zacchaeus’ conversion is dramatic and generous, reflecting his experience of Jesus’ goodness and generosity. His story teaches us that no one is beyond the pale, no one beyond redemption, and that God’s grace and mercy reaches into the deepest and darkest hearts.
Jesus did not come to call the righteousness but the unrighteous. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and the truth is that we are all lost. The rich young man encountered the Lord and went away sad. Zacchaeus encountered the Lord and went away filled with the joy of conversion. God works in amazing ways: those we think are far away from God are closer than we realise, and those we think are close to God may be further away that we imagine.
Lord, you treated everyone you met with dignity and compassion; as persons created in your image and likeness. May I now go and do likewise.