“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5).
Zacchaeus was up in the sycamore tree when Jesus called him because “he was short in stature.” Zacchaeus was attempting to get to see Jesus but no one was willing to let him through to access a better vantage point. Not deterred, he climbed the tree.
Jesus recognized the ingenuity of Zacchaeus and his persistence of not being turned away by the apparent obstacles placed before him. He recognized that Zacchaeus was also a sinner, but that he did not point out at the moment of their encounter. Jesus simply said that they were to dine together.
Jesus’ act of not only acknowledging and accepting Zacchaeus but then to invite himself to dine with him in his home cut Zacchaeus to the heart, such that he was willing to repent from his unethical practices. He vowed to give to the poor and to pay back four times over anyone he had extorted.
There is an important lesson for us today in the Gospel regarding our encounters with one another. Jesus by no means condones sin and unethical behavior. From the beginning of his public ministry, he has called for repentance. Yet, what is crucial is that he meets people and accepts them as they are as the starting point.
Jesus did not say to Zacchaeus, “If you are willing to repent and give to the poor, we will break bread together.” Instead, he said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” It is this movement of mercy that touches Zacchaeus and provokes a change of mind and heart. He is willing to do what the rich young man (cf. Lk 18:18-23) was unwilling to do to inherit eternal life, part with his wealth, atone for his sin, and give to the poor.
What if we resisted judging others and putting them into a box, and not only loved and accepted more, but recognized that we “are lost” as well and in need of a savior? Maybe then there would be less division, polarization, and hatred, and more understanding, kindness, unity, and love exchanged more often. None of us are perfect and all of us fall short of radiating the glory of God in our encounters with one another. Jesus is willing to meet and walk with us when we accept his invitation to stay with us. The answer is to let him into our mind and heart, let him love us, and let him love others through us.
Some powerful ways that we can recognize Jesus in others, is to spend time with him in prayer, in his Word, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and to consume him in the Eucharist so that he becomes one with us organically, subsisting in us at the very core of our being.
Photo: Spent some time in the adoration chapel, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles the past few days.