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The Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Zacchaeus and the Sycamore Tree 


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So when Zacchaeus responds in this way to Jesus, what does Jesus say?

Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:9)

Now why does Jesus bring up Abraham? What’s the...Why does He say that here? Well, two reasons. First, remember Zacchaeus is a tax collector, so he’s regarded as being like outside the pale—you know, beyond mercy, beyond the pale. Okay, he’s a sinner; he’s living in a perpetual state of sin. However, even though he’s breaking that law, he’s still a circumcised Jew. He’s still a member of the covenant with Abraham, and so what Jesus is in a sense implying here is, in so far as he’s a son of Abraham, he’s not beyond the pale. He’s not beyond mercy, and in fact, the fact that he’s willing to give to the poor and repay the damage from his theft shows “that today salvation has come to this house” in the form of his repentance.

However, there’s another level of meaning, too. I think it’s almost a kind of double entendre, a kind of play on words—multiple meanings. Because when Jesus says “salvation has come to this house today,” it’s interesting that He says that in the context of He, Himself coming to Zacchaeus’ house. “Zacchaeus”—what does he say earlier? “I must stay at your house today.”  So does Luke mean that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house because Zacchaeus has repented or because Jesus has come to his house? And the answer is both. The reason he has repented is precisely because Jesus has come into his home and obviously into his heart as well.

And Jesus uses this opportunity of the repentance of a tax collector like Zacchaeus to reveal the nature of His mission. The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. He’s pursuing Zacchaeus in order to bring about his salvation. And the same thing needs to be the posture of the Church today. The Church exists for mission. The Church exists to bring the Good News of salvation to a world that desperately needs it. The Church does not exist to just kind of sustain itself, status quo, keep things running—you know, keep the parish going. The Church exists for the salvation of souls. The Church has the same mission that the Son of man has. And so the question that the parable raises for us is, in what way am I carrying on Christ’s mission to seek and to save the lost? Or am I like the crowd murmuring, “Oh gosh. He’s going to eat in the house of a sinner”? 

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