Again, the crowd gets in the way of someone seeking access to Jesus. The wall of people does not appear to be overtly keeping Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus, as they may be so focused on seeing him themselves that they are not aware another cannot see. There is also the possibility that the people were aware, they knew Zacchaeus, and many judged him to be the sinner of sinners, as he was the chief tax collector of the area. Each time Zacchaeus nudged by to get through a gap to get a better look, the individuals may have time and again closed the gap such that Zacchaeus could not get through.
Zacchaeus though would not be thwarted in his effort to see Jesus. He climbed a sycamore tree. From his perch he was not only able to see Jesus, Jesus saw him and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5). Jesus did not see a tax collector or a sinner, he saw a seeker. As with yesterday’s reading, the crowd only saw a blind beggar, and today they tried not to see the tax collector. Jesus saw Bartimaeus yesterday and today he saw Zacchaeus. He saw his brothers.
Jesus did not see the 99% and he did not see the 1%, Jesus saw people who were in need of compassion and mercy. Jesus did not meet Zacchaeus with judgment, but with love and acceptance as he was, and that made all the difference for conversion to happen. Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ invitation with the words: “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” (LK 19:8). Jesus did not judge Zacchaeus, he saw his open heart of faith. Zacchaeus is moved by Jesus’ acceptance of him as he is, as a person with dignity, and he repents as a response to the love he has received.
We need to follow the lead of Jesus and start seeing each other as human beings. One way to do so is to resist the temptation to “grumble”, to gossip, to pre-judge, to dehumanize one another, and to see beyond the exterior and to be willing to go deeper to the heart and character of the person. To do that, we need to be willing to encounter one another, to walk with one another, to accompany and spend time with one another.
May we move from a people who seek to define and limit ourselves by our identity, and instead seek to open ourselves up to being people of integrity. This means resisting the temptation of building walls that protect ourselves from others and instead building bridges of dialogue and embracing the gift of diversity. Integrity means that we will be aware, we will stand with and stand up for someone who is ignored, belittled, dehumanized, harassed, discriminated against, ridiculed, abused, objectified, persecuted, segregated, and prevented access no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, income level, class, political party, religion or none.
Life is hard enough, so let’s stop grumbling and start healing, let’s stop preventing access and start opening opportunities, and let’s stop closing ourselves off and begin to open our arms wide to embrace and accompany one another as we journey with Jesus.