The Way to a More Just World

Doug McManaman
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

I recall the first time I saw the show Dragon's Den. I hated it. I couldn't bear to watch it. I thought "Who are these arrogant men sitting there like judges on their thrones, looking down their noses at these people struggling to make a living". I don't think that anymore. I think I might have been too quick to pronounce judgment. They actually do a lot of good; they take big risks by investing in young entrepreneurs, they provide employment, and it is people like that who enable the economy to expand and flourish. And there's a lot of know about business and economics, and many of us just don't know a whole lot about these things, and instead of admitting it and reserving judgment, we make quick and unfounded inferences on the basis of flimsy evidence. I am guilty as charged!

I think there has always been a general and unfounded prejudice against the rich that is probably rooted in envy, not to mention a kind of ignorance. But this gospel is particularly interesting for the wealthy. Zacchaeus is a wealthy man, and he was well hated; he was a tax collector, and tax collectors were generally a well hated group of people. The fact of the matter is that we need not be envious of the wealthy. They are just as restless as the rest of us. In fact, cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out that there is no correlation between an increase in wealth and an increase in happiness. Once you are making over $60.000 a year, your happiness will plateau, no matter how much your wealth increases.

But this story of Zacchaeus reveals just what the key to happiness really is, and it holds the key to a more just world. We live in a profoundly unjust world, and everyone seems to have a solution to the world's problems, whether that's raising taxes, lowering taxes, more socialism or a more libertarian society, more education, or greater quality of education, more technology, a central world government, etc. But none of these are the answer. What will transform people is right here in this story, and it all begins with a desire that is conceived in the heart of Zacchaeus. He desires to see who this Jesus is. But Zacchaeus was short. He couldn't see through the crowd of people. At this point he has a choice: he's got his money, he's got employment, so he can turn around and go home. But he doesn't. He climbs a sycamore tree. That's quite an effort.

The Old Testament makes it very clear that God waits for us to take the first step: "If you return to him with all your heart and all your soul, then he will return to you and hide his face from you no longer" (Tobit 13, 6). The book of Wisdom says that Wisdom anticipates those who desire her: "Whoever gets up early to seek her will have no trouble but will find her sitting at the door." (Wis 6, 13-14). Jesus is the wisdom of God made flesh. And so he should know who has taken a step towards him, that is, who desires to see him. And he does. He calls out: "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."

At this point, Zacchaeus could have said "No. I don't know you. This would be an inconvenience." But he doesn't. He receives him with joy. But notice what takes place afterward. Zacchaeus was utterly transformed. He became a completely different person. There's something about this Person, Jesus of Nazareth, that brought about this radical transformation. Before, Zacchaeus loved money, as most people do; that's what he lived for. Money was more important to him than his own character - we know that from his own mouth, for he was guilty of extortion. In other words, he was an unjust man. But that all changed. He says: "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."

The poor mean more to him now than his possessions, because Jesus means more to him than his money. Charity has taken root in his heart. He remembers the extortions he might have committed in the past, and has resolved to repay them fourfold. That's an astounding transformation. What did he suddenly receive that would make him so indifferent to his money? Clearly something of much greater value than his wealth. Something has entered into him. There's a light within him now that wasn't there before. There is a joy within him that wasn't there before, despite all the wealth that was his. He immediately recognizes that no matter how much wealth he accumulates from this point onwards, it will not bring him anything close to what he now has, all as a result of receiving Jesus into his home.

All we have to do is receive Jesus into our homes. Consecrate our home to him. Give every aspect of our lives to him, receive him completely into our lives, and then nothing else, unrelated to this, will matter. We won't need anything else; we won't desire anything else for ourselves. Our happiness will lie in the happiness of others. Like Zacchaeus, we will be moved to think of other people, those who suffer, the poor, the sick, the mentally ill, and those we have caused to suffer, and so we will be moved to repent and make up for the wrong we've done to others, and our happiness will lie in living not for ourselves, but for others, that they might know the joy of having received Jesus into their homes. This is what Pope Francis was saying in the interview that the media tried hard to distort - and succeeded, because most people don't like to read anything more than headlines. He wasn't saying that he is liberal on morality or that life issues are not important; rather, he was saying that when you know the joy of having received Christ into your life, a morally good life will automatically flow out of that. He said he is a son of the Church and that of course he believes the Church's moral teachings. But what people need is not ideology, nor a set of moral doctrines to live by, they need a Person, and the Truth became a Person. Salvation is a Person, not an idea, not a government program, but a Person, the Person of Christ.