Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: WIS 11:22-12:2; PS 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14; 2THES 1:11- 2:2; LK 19:1-10.
Tax collectors were not the most loved people in 1st Century Roman Palestine. The economic situation at the time was characterized by the notion of "limited good," that is, all goods (both tangible goods such as food, money, and property; and intangible goods such as power and status) were in limited supply and were already distributed. In this equation, to take more than what is rightfully yours meant that your neighbor would have less.
Some New Testament scholars liken the situation to eating a disproportionately large piece of the pie without care that others will have less to eat, precisely, because the pie does not grow bigger. Understood within this contextual frame, it is not difficult to see why people considered tax collectors as sinners; not only were they known to be a dishonorable, greedy lot who engaged in extortion and corruption for their own personal profit, their greed and dishonesty had direct implications not just for those they have victimized but for the community in general.
But Jesus does the unexpected. Amid the crowd, he zeroes-in on the diminutive tax collector perched on a sycamore tree and summons him by name: "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down,for I must stay at your house today." (Luke 19: 5) Naturally, the crowd finds this scandalous, after all, Jesus opts to stay in the house of a dishonorable person. How could Jesus extend fellowship to a sinner?
The Reign of God excludes no one; the God of the Reign reaches out to all, including those society had labeled as pariahs and sinners. In a most concrete way, Jesus demonstrates to Zacchaeus how God loves him unconditionally, and because of this, the tax collector experiences a conversion of heart. He decides to give half his possessions to the poor, and offers to make amends to those he had extorted, committing to repay them fourfold.
Zacchaeus goes by many names today. There are despised and broken people around us who have climbed up their own sycamore tree because they seek Jesus in earnest and acknowledge the need for God in their lives. Perhaps we have met Zacchaeus in our workplace, ministry sites, or in even in our own families. Or perhaps we ourselves are Zacchaeus, we are perched on our own sycamore tree as we strive to get a better view of Jesus in the face of our personal fiascos.
Today's reading invites us to reflect on the plenitude of God's self-giving love that is offered to us in Jesus Christ. Drawing from the turn of events in the story of Zacchaeus, the prospect of genuine change becomes a promise and a possibility for us when we come down from our tree and welcome Jesus into our lives.
Antonio Sison, CPPS
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology
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