Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
A Word of Hope
Most of are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus. Remember that he was a Jew who supervised the collection of taxes for Roman authorities. Those townsfolk in the crowd surrounding Jesus probably hated Zacchaeus and those who worked with him. For them, he could have stayed up in that tree even as Jesus called him to come down. Surely, the crowd was amazed that Jesus saw him up there and more amazed when Jesus announced that he wanted to visit the tax collector’s home. Goodness, how could a wise and holy man like Jesus associate with a probable crook like a tax collector? Jesus had never met Zacchaeus before this encounter, and it is clear that he did not label him with the evil reputation of a tax collector.
Now, here’s a lesson for each of us today. When we encounter someone whom we don’t know or a person who is different from us, don’t prejudge them! How other people may think about them, may not be how God values them. And our assessment of others should be based on that of God, not the jaded judgment of the crowd around us. Jesus realized that Zacchaeus had as much need to “fine-tune” his spiritual life as the personal need of anyone else in that crowd. Jesus greeted this tax collector and went to his home for a meal. He accepted God’s valuation of Zacchaeus and was willing to interact with him. We also live in a world where people and ideas are sharply divided, good or bad, true or false. As we encounter others who are different from us or who hold different opinions, I hope we can let Jesus’ example teach us to act toward others as God would; always keeping our minds and hearts open to interaction which expresses divine love, forgiveness and welcome!
We find a similar story about accepting others as God values them in John 8:1-11. In this passage, Jesus was teaching some followers in the Temple when the scribes brought before him a woman whom they claimed was caught in the act of adultery. They hoped to trick and condemn Jesus if he did not agree to stone her to death. But Jesus turned the question of
personal sin on to them when he told those pious men in attendance: “Who among you has not sinned?” The accusers were forced to withdraw in defeat.
But how would the sinless Jesus encounter this woman? Finally, only Jesus and the accused woman were present when he told her: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on sin no more.” Jesus offered this woman the divine forgiving embrace. Rather than a judgmental rejection of her, he offered forgiveness and a better chance to live as God wishes, once again teaching all of us how God meets us in our imperfect lives. We should love others as we have experienced God’s love, a divine love of acceptance and help.
Today, as we encounter others, may we open our hearts to God’s forgiving love and let that inspire our words and actions as we interact with them. May we become the all-understanding and loving heart of God to the other person.
Donald (Luke) Day
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare