October 30, 2022: Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel – Luke 19:1-10 (translation from “The Message”)
When Jesus entered and walked through Jericho, there was a man there named Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way – he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by.
When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.” Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him. Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?”
Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor – and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damage.”
Jesus said, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
A wise theology professor helped me with this reflection. Years ago, she asked students to work at “playing with the text” when we read scripture. Our confused faces prompted her to expand her teaching. A few of her additional suggestions include: “DIG IN to the text,” “Get your hands DIRTY,” “attend to the IMAGES that surface,” “laugh and find joy,” and “ask questions and listen for answers.”
It strikes me that Zacchaeus’ stature is noted. This piece of information had me chuckling as I tried to imagine this short person climbing a sycamore tree in order to rise above the crowd. I’ll admit that I also pictured him as a wee bit chubby! Did one of the other bystanders give him a lift up? Did someone bend over so he could climb on their back to hoist himself to a low branch? Did Jesus see this scene?
Other translations of the text suggest to us that Jesus had never intended to stay in Jericho that day. He was passing through. What caused him to change his plan and decide to invite himself to this sinner’s home? We know from the bystander’s response that there were more than enough sinners with whom to dine! Was it a lesson for the others: “Judge not lest ye be judged?” I wonder if Zacchaeus was concerned about sending word home to his servants that an honored guest would require more than corked wine and leftovers that evening.
Did anyone else feel a slight bit of shame as they readily related to the indignation expressed by the crowd? Why wasn’t I the chosen one? I have a better track record. If I had known Jesus would pick someone as a dining guest I would have climbed a taller tree than Zacchaeus.
Is there a scripture passage that has never made sense for you? One that continues to challenge you? I encourage you to spend time with the text and approach it with a playful heart. What comes alive for you? I would love to see what you find in the comment section.