Yet again, as in the Gospel from yesterday, 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. There is also the possibility that the people were aware of that this man was trying to get through. They knew Zacchaeus, and many judged him to be the sinner of sinners. He was the chief tax collector of the area and that meant he was most likely reviled by most in his community. Each time Zacchaeus nudged by to get through a gap to get a better look, the individuals may have time and again closed each gap such that he could not get through.
Zacchaeus was not thwarted. He ran ahead and 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. One who was also willing to humble himself by climbing a tree, much like a child.
Jesus does not see the 99% nor the 1%. Jesus sees people in need of compassion and mercy. Jesus did not meet Zacchaeus with judgment but with love and compassion, and that made all the difference for conversion.
Jesus acknowledged the one who so many despised, and by inviting himself to dine with Zacchaeus in his own home, Zacchaeus must have felt overwhelmed with emotion. Maybe for the first time in his life, he felt like a person with dignity. He then repented on the spot as a response to the love he had received, 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).
The encounter of Jesus and Zacchaeus offers us an inspiring model to start seeing each other as human beings. One way to do so is to resist the temptation to “grumble”, to gossip, to pre-judge, and/or to dehumanize one another. Jesus invites us instead 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 with a posture of understanding and a willingness to spend time with one another.
When we do so, we will move from being people who seek to define and limit ourselves by our identity, and instead 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 to embrace the wonderful gift of our God-given diversity.
Integrity means that we will be more present and 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 up opportunities, and let’s stop closing ourselves off and begin to open our arms wide to embrace and accompany one another as we allow Jesus to love others through us. Not only will they be loved and healed, but so will we in the process.