The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 3 November 2019
Lectionary Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2; Ps 145:1-2,8-11,13b-14; 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
Theme: The LORD is good to all
The word “all”, whether in Hebrew (col) or Greek (pantes), is of great significance in this Sunday’s readings. We are reminded that the LORD “love[s] all things that exist” (Wis 11:24), and “upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (Ps 145:14) The “all” of the LORD is truly “all” – it is, you might say, “all-inclusive.” If the LORD loves everyone, then you and I must be included. Yet, as this Gospel passage reminds us, we tend to exclude others, to point to those who, in our judgment, the LORD should not love. Often they are people who do not belong to our group, to our “all”, which is smaller than the LORD’s “all”.
The tax collector Zaccheus ‘seeks’ to see Jesus but is excluded, as Brendan Byrne writes (150), for two reasons: he is too short to see over the crowd and nobody in the crowd is going to let him move to the front. They despise him because of his occupation. They “all” know that “all” tax collectors are sinners. So he climbs a tree and now he can see Jesus – and Jesus can see him. He tells him to get a move on because he is coming to his house. So Zaccheus hurries off home in time to welcome Jesus. The Greek word used for ‘welcome’ is the same as that used earlier in this gospel, when Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. (Johnson, 285) And “all” (pantes) who see this grumble that Jesus is entering the home of a sinful man. As Johnson comments (285), it comes as a surprise that the grumblers are not identified as those frequent criticizers, the scribes and Pharisees. Instead, it seems that everyone in Jericho that day thinks it wrong for Jesus to be a guest of Zaccheus. For he does not belong to their “all”.
The next verse is often translated as “Zaccheus stood there and said…” The Greek reads “Standing Zaccheus”; it is the same formulation used at the beginning of Peter’s great speech on the day of Pentecost. (Ac 2:14) We have seen Zaccheus shinning up the tree to see Jesus, then scurrying down again to run home, but now he is a figure of dignity, not of fun. It is as if the crowd, the “all” who criticized, have faded away and now there are only the two individuals – Jesus and Zaccheus, face to face. Zaccheus justifies himself to Jesus, not to the crowd. He says that he behaves righteously by giving half of what he has to the poor and repaying fourfold anyone he may have wronged. (This accords with Torah but also with what John the Baptist told tax collectors to do, Lk 3:12-13) Modern translations often put his claim in the future tense as “I will give” where the early translators such as Wycliffe had it right: Zaccheus says “I give” (didomi not doso). Jesus then reaffirms Zaccheus as “a son of Abraham”. Zaccheus is one of the family, one of the LORD’s “all” and he is loved with the LORD’s inclusive love. Jesus has been seeking him, just as he was seeking to see Jesus – the same verb (zetein) is used for both. (Lk 19:3 & 10)
For Reflection and Discussion: Think of an individual you dislike or disapprove of and then imagine Jesus as a willing guest in this person’s home.  Go online and find a picture of ‘Zaccheus’s tree’ in Jericho. Imagine climbing the tree and then ask yourself what out of character action you would be willing to perform in public in order to see Jesus.