“The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10). How liberating it must have been for Zacchaeus to hear these words! Why? Zacchaeus, though wealthy, is ostracized because of his profession but most of all, his dishonesty and extortion (rf Lk19:9). His conversion in today's Gospel reading reveals the process of conversion.
First, there is the proclamation of the good news – the preaching. Last Sunday we heard the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (rf Lk 18:9). In Zacchaeus' case, we have no clue whether he had been told of this parable or heard it himself. Perhaps it was out of sheer curiosity he would like to see who this famous Jesus was (rf Lk 19:3). But then comes the response – the repentance. On encountering Jesus, Zacchaeus, who has always been despised by his fellow Jews, must have experienced something that touched his heart and made him acknowledge his wrongful doings. His repentance leads him to do more than the tax collector in the parable, “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” (Lk. 19:8). Lastly, the fruit – mercy and forgiveness. “Today salvation has come to this house, because [Zacchaeus] too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Lk 19:9-10).
Salvation is a gift and the initiative is always from God. We can surmise that Zacchaeus could never have dreamed that Jesus would single him out in the crowd; not in the midst of the crowd but “Jesus looked up and said to him,‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house'” (Lk 19:5). We do not know what takes place in the heart of Zacchaeus who is being “looked up” by Jesus when he is used to be “looked down” by others. But it may not be much different than what takes place in the heart of another tax collector, St. Matthew, who has left everything and followed Jesus (rf Lk. 5:27). There is something dramatic about their responses to God’s offer of mercy and salvation.
The Church is comprised of individual stories: of encounters with God and conversions, some gradual, some dramatic; of repentance and transformation in Christ, some instant, some take a life time. Some become saints, others remain sinners. But how consoling when we know now and hear again in Jesus' own words that “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10). A truly merciful God, gently corrects little by little those who trespass (rf First reading Wis. 12:2), supports all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (rf Responsorial Psalm 145). May the story of Zacchaeus reveal to us the mercy of God and give us hope and relief of our trespasses.