I must stay at your house
Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully.
They all complained when they saw what was happening. “He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,” they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and to save what was lost.”
I invite you to notice what happened to Zacchaeus, and see if something similar has happened to yourself or to someone you know. At the beginning of the story Zacchaeus is on the outside: he is a dishonest tax collector, he is too short, he is condemned by all and he has nothing to say. At the end of the story, he is in the middle of the people, and he is standing his ground. He is talking for himself: he admits the wrong he has done, he undertakes to compensate, four times over, the people he has cheated. And he promises to give half of his property to the poor. This extraordinary change takes place because Jesus pays attention to him, reaches out to him and accepts and respects him. He is surprised and delighted that Jesus wants to be a guest in his house, when nobody else will associate with him.
What does this story remind you of? You may remember a time in your childhood when you got in trouble at home or in school; you expected everyone to condemn you. But there was a good person there for you, who treated you with understanding and compassion, and maybe even have helped you to discover that you were capable of more than you thought.
Between God and yourself
Something like this may have happened between God and yourself. You may recall a time when you went to confession with a burden on your conscience, afraid that you would be criticized. But you were welcomed with gentleness and understanding. You came out from the celebration of that sacrament with a great sense of relief and joy, able to stand your ground with humility and confidence, and ready to try again to be your best self.
People with a drinking problem who join Alcoholics Anonymous may have a similar experience. They come weighed down with guilt and shame and are surprised by the warmth of the members who welcome and befriend them. Often there is a miracle: they stop drinking. They put their trust in the higher power of God and keep sober one day at a time. Like Zacchaeus they make amends, as far as they can, to the people they have hurt and wronged, and they give themselves generously to help other alcoholics rebuild their lives.
The story of Zacchaeus shows us that no matter what we have done in the past, we can live our lives to the full in the present. We do not have to hide on a tree and look out on the world through the leaves. We can stand our ground, own up to whatever wrongs we have done and make amends as best we can. Then we know that salvation has come to our house and that we too are children of Abraham.
Prayer: Psalm 32
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is forgiven.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence,
my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity; I said,
"I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.