Blog # 396 Zaccheus
In Luke's Gospel (18: 9 - 14; 19: 1 - 10),in two separate texts, we have two well-known stories of a Pharisee and two different tax collectors. In the first instance we have a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray. The tax collector recognized his sinfulness, asked the Lord's mercy, and went home justified. The Pharisee patted himself on the back for having done so much good, and was not pleasing to the Lord. It seemed he thought he was doing God a favor by his holy life. He should have reflected on Psalm 50.
The story of these two men is given as a parable of Jesus. In the second instance we have a real life situation. It is the story of an actual tax collector, Zaccheus by name, in a well known City, the city of Jericho. Zaccheus is wealthy and certainly well known in Jericho. He is the chief tax collector.
In Luke's account Zaccheus goes out of his way to see Jesus. Too short to get a good view of Jesus over the heads and shoulders of the crowd, he climbs into a sycamore tree along the route Jesus was taking. Wisdom and patience were his. Jesus greets Zaccheus and invites himself to the home of the tax collector as a guest. Zacheus was delighted. People in the crowd began to complain that Jesus had gone to the house of a sinner to eat.
In response to their complaints, I think Jesus may have thought of a passage in the Book of Wisdom (11:22 - 12: 2) . It is a clear witness to the Father's mercy always lived out in the life of Jesus. "For you love all things you have made...you spare all because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls...Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!"
In the second instance of Luke's reference to a tax collector, the Pharisee has dropped out of the picture. The tax collector in the real life situation has become the chief tax collector, a sinner with a capital 'S' you might say. He begins to speak in the presence of Jesus in a way that seems much like the speech given by the Pharisee in the parable. But in this case Jesus is pleased. He invites those listening to Him to see in Zaccheus what it means to be a child of Abraham, to witness in him the advent and meaning of salvation.
The difference in the words used by the Pharisee and Zaccheus does not seem to be significant at first reading. Both sets of words see to be bragging and words of pride. "I do this!". "I do that!"
The response of Jesus to the two men, affirmation of Zaccheus, and disapproval of the Pharisee, invites us to to discover the difference between the two. The difference does not seem to lie in the truth or untruth of what the men said of themselves. Most likely the Pharisee actually did what he said by way of fasting regularly, paying tithes on all he possessed, etc. Most likely both tax collectors were indeed sinners of one kind or another.
I find a significant difference in the attitude of the two men toward themselves and toward what they had done. With the attitude the Pharisee had toward himself he is not likely to change. He is apparently entirely self-satisfied. He is satisfied with who he is and what he has done. He is not looking for change. His words are proud words. He sees God as his helper rather than his guide.
We find Zaccheus desiring to see Jesus. He does not see himself complete within himself, existing for his own sake. But he cannot see Jesus because he is too short. He looks around to see if something could be changed. He climbs the tree, and in his new position his desire is fulfilled. His words are humble words, words that could be used to prepare for repentance and change.
Another significant difference in the words of he Pharisee and Zaccheus is this: the concern of the Pharisee is for things: "I fast" (food); "I pay tithes" (money). The concern of Zaccheus is for people : "I give to the poor" (people); "If I have defrauded anyone..".(people). That difference certainly would seem to put Zaccheus close to the heart of Jesus. He was ready to grow in God's love.
The beautiful passage from the Book of Wisdom is an invitation to both men, and to us, to discover again how close God is to all of creation, how good it all is, how ready God is to call us back from our sins and share God's love with us. In my examination of conscience this evening I plan to ask myself "Is my name 'Zaccheus'?