Jesus has now arrived at Jericho and so his long journey to Jerusalem is almost over. He has been modeling for us our own journey of faith. When he meets Zachaeus he reminds us that it will not be possible to go with him all the way to Cross and Resurrection without total generosity.
In the previous chapter, the rich ruler cannot abandon his wealth in order to follow Jesus (18:18). By contrast, Zachaeus is happy to share half of his possessions with the poor. The wealthy ruler appears to be pious and observant, whereas Zachaeus has been collecting taxes for the hated Roman occupiers of his country. Nonetheless, he is the one who is looking for Jesus and he is the one with whom Jesus wishes to be associated.
Much has been made of the fact that Zachaeus was “short of stature,” so that he had to climb a sycamore tree in order to see, and be seen by, Jesus. Today we would say that he was a little man with a big heart!
The gospel tells us that Zachaeus was a rich man. We may assume, therefore, that he was not like most of us, who would no doubt be surprised if someone should call us rich. In fact, we are wealthy in many ways that do not involve money, such as talent, kindness or sensitivity. And so we need to ask ourselves whether we are as generous as was Zachaeus in sharing our own gifts. Do we think that much about the poor? Do we realize that the “poor” are often those who need a kind word or a friendly smile?
This gospel story reminds us also that we must be very careful not to judge others because of their appearance. We are told that those who accompanied Jesus began to grumble when he chose to be a guest of this marginal Jew, who seemed to be collaborating with the Romans. But, as a matter of fact, this was one of those jobs that someone had to do. The real world is not as neat as we might like it to be. The point is that Zachaeus “redeemed” his unsavory work by the generosity that he brought to it.
It should also be noted that Zachaeus did not live in the illusion of self-sufficiency. He knew that somehow his life was incomplete without Jesus. And he did not allow his short stature to become an excuse for not seeking Jesus. Nor did Jesus consider his “inadequacy” to be an obstacle. Jesus wants to be a guest in all our homes. Our desire to welcome him will easily cancel any feelings of unworthiness that may hold us back. The kindness we offer to others can more than make up any “shortness” we may have.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.