Deacon Prodencio Bognay reads and reflects on the Gospels this week. Today he reads from the Gospel of Luke (19: 1-10) in which Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, climbs a tree to get a better view of Jesus.
Prodencio says in this Gospel we understand two reasons why the people complained about the action of Jesus. One is that they believed religious leaders like Jesus should not mingle with sinners for fear of being contaminated with their sins. Another, is they wanted Jesus to join them in hating Zacchaeus due to his job as a tax collector.
Sometimes, Prodencio says, when we hate somebody so much, we wish that everyone will hate that person as well. What makes this trap all the more tricky is that, with our concept of justice, it is very easy to rationalize that those who wrong us deserve to be punished. The general Jewish population hated Zacchaeus because of his work as a tax collector for the Roman government. They looked at him as a traitor. They expected Jesus to punish him or, at least, to hate him instead of showing him any compassion. Rather than falling into such a worldly concept of justice, Jesus showed the joy of winning somebody back to the fold. Instead of using the concept of justice to make Zacchaeus’ life miserable, Jesus demonstrates how to handle those who have gone astray with compassion.
We can reflect on this Gospel story as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for us sinners. With Jesus saying that he came to seek out and save the lost, we can see that this story demonstrates how much God desires to redeem us from our sinfulness. We can also reflect on this story as an invitation for each of us to be kind and compassionate to those who hurt us or those whom we hate.
Most importantly, we can reflect on this story as an invitation for each of us to be kind and compassionate to our own Zacchaeus within. We might have hated ourselves; we might have felt ashamed because of our sins; and, we might have thought we deserved to be punished by God because of our sinfulness. We might have thought we are no longer worthy of God’s attention but if we imitate Jesus in seeking out our own lost and astray self, we might find the joy of becoming whole again. As Jesus said, our Zacchaeus within is also a son of Abraham.