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Sunday 3 November - Zacchaeus and the mercy of Jesus

From the homily of Blessed John Paul II, 17 March 2002

The story, as we know, presents the meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus as if it happened by chance. Jesus enters Jericho and moves through the city accompanied by the crowd (cf. Lk 19:3). In climbing the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus seems prompted by curiosity alone...Everything that happens to him is amazing. If there had not been, at a certain point, the “surprise” of Christ looking up at him, perhaps he would have remained a silent spectator of the Lord moving through the streets of Jericho. Jesus would have passed by, not into, his life. Zacchaeus had no idea that the curiosity which had prompted him to do such an unusual thing was already the fruit of a mercy which had preceded him, attracted him and was about to change him in the depths of his heart...

...For Zacchaeus, it must have been a stunning experience to hear himself called by his name, a name which many of his townsmen spoke with contempt. Now he hears it spoken in a tone of tenderness, expressing not just trust but familiarity, insistent friendship. Yes, Jesus speaks to Zacchaeus like an old friend, forgotten maybe, but a friend who has nonetheless remained faithful, and who enters with the gentle force of affection into the life and into the home of his re-discovered friend: “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5). 

Luke's account is remarkable for the tone of the language: everything is so personal, so tactful, so affectionate! Not only is the text filled with humanity; it suggests insistence, an urgency to which Jesus gives voice as the one offering the definitive revelation of God's mercy. He says: “I must stay at your house”, or to translate even more literally: “I need to stay at your house” (Lk 19:5). Following the mysterious road map which the Father has laid out for him, Jesus runs into Zacchaeus along the way. He pauses near him as if the meeting had been planned from the beginning. Despite all the murmuring of human malice, the home of this sinner is about to become a place of revelation, the scene of a miracle of mercy. 

...Aware that he is now being treated as a “son”, he begins to think and act like a son, and this he shows in the way he rediscovers his brothers and sisters. Beneath the loving gaze of Christ, the heart of Zacchaeus warms to love of neighbour. From a feeling of isolation, which had led him to enrich himself without caring about what others had to suffer, he moves to an attitude of sharing. This is expressed in a genuine “division” of his wealth: “half of my goods to the poor”. The injustice done to others by his fraudulent behaviour is atoned for by a fourfold restitution: “If I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lk19:8). And it is only at this point that the love of God achieves its purpose, and salvation is accomplished: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19:9). 

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