'Today salvation has come to this house'

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

31th Sunday in ordinary times

“You have mercy on all, Lord, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made” (Wisdom 11:23–24). Here God is celebrated as the lover of life Who conserves His own creation in a spirit of mercy. In His dealing with sinners, He overlooks “the sins of men that they may repent.” The sequence is important; first, God overlooks sin; then, repentance follows. This sequence highlights the difference between the way we and God forgive. For unlike God, we demand repentance first, then we overlook the wrong, more often than not, sad to say, with conditions.

We see this sequence leading to repentance at work in Jesus' dealing with Zacchaeus, Jericho's chief tax collector and thus a wealthy man, who “was seeking to see who Jesus was” (Lk. 19:1–10). When he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, he climbed a tree to be able to see him. Lucky for him, Jesus passed where he was. More, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”

Zacchaeus was very happy about this turn of events. Upon welcoming Jesus to his house, he said in his joy, “Lord, I shall give to the poor half of my possessions, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” To this, Jesus replied, “Today salvation has come to this house.... For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Everyone in Jericho knew who Zacchaeus was. As a tax collector, and especially as the chief tax collector, they knew that he engaged in dirty deals. Thus he was branded as an extortioner, one who made his money at the expense of others. In short, he was a “sinner” and was lumped together with thieves, murderers and prostitutes. For such types of people, there was no salvation. So when Jesus invited Himself to stay at Zacchaeus' house, the Pharisees could not believe what they heard nor could they understand why. But all they could do was to mutter derisively, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

Not Jesus. He knew that deep in his heart Zacchaeus was not all that bad. Even if he had dirtied his hands in immoral deals, he had not lost his sense of what was good as evidenced by his eagerness to see Jesus, even to the extent of humbling himself by climbing up a tree — which highlighted all the more his physical infirmity. Jesus did not disappoint Zacchaeus.

Luke said that Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully; a joy which reflected the transformation effected in him by his “seeing” of Jesus. The outcast Zacchaeus had never felt more accepted for what he was than at that moment! After that, he did not have any trouble in rectifying his evil deeds. Without any prompting from Jesus, he told Him that he would give half of his possessions to the poor and pay four–fold those he had cheated.

What was the reaction of the crowd? Instead of showing joy at this wonderful event of real conversion, they were enraged! In this, the crowd was no different than the Pharisees. But to Jesus, the crowd's lack of understanding did not matter any more than that of the Pharisees. He was more interested in the outcast than in the outraged. In so doing, He publicly showed the crowd that His mission was to deliver the sinner from the clutches of sin or in His words: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

We have one thing in common with Zacchaeus: like him, we are all sinners and therefore are in need of salvation. So like Zacchaeus let us begin “seeking to see who Jesus was.” And like Zacchaeus, we will also be given the opportunity for repentance in an atmosphere of acceptance. For after all, Jesus' mission is “to save what was lost.”

In our seeking of Jesus, there will be difficulties along the way even as early as when by God's grace the desire to return to Him is awakened in us. Is our response “yes,” “no,” or “later”? The same goes in the area of rectifying relationships. Are we ready to stand humbly before God as we are now, warts and all? Are we ready to right our relationships with people close to us — our parents, relatives, friends, peers, and those we come in contact with in our day to day existence? In short, are we ready to forgive and ask for forgiveness?

The difficulties do not end there. When we finally respond to Jesus' call, our conversion may be considered suspect especially by those who have already prejudged us as “sinners.” But let us not allow that to bother us as Zacchaeus did not. What is important is to hear Jesus say to us, after we have responded to His desire to stay at our house, the same words He said to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house.”