Read­ing Time: 8 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Wis 11:22–12:2; 2Thess 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1–10)

Then ´ädönäy (the Lord) spoke to Moses, say­ing, “When a per­son sins and acts unfaith­fully against ´ädönäy (the Lord), and deceives his com­pan­ion in regard to a depos­it or a secur­ity entrus­ted to him, or through rob­bery, or if he has extor­ted from his com­pan­ion, or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do; then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by rob­bery or what he got by extor­tion, or the depos­it which was entrus­ted to him or the lost thing which he found, or any­thing about which he swore falsely; he shall make resti­tu­tion for it in full and add to it one-fifth more He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day he presents his guilt offer­ing” (Lev 6:1–6).

Introductory words

Jesus is gradu­ally approach­ing Jer­u­s­alem and he con­tin­ues to recall people’s atten­tion on the right path to the truth, espe­cially, those who are will­ing and dis­posed to listen to him. In this Sunday Gos­pel, it is Zac­chaeus’ turn to embrace the Gos­pel of sal­va­tion. Luke is just won­der­ful in his present­a­tions. Look at what he does: 1) in 18:1–8, we are taught to pray con­stantly without los­ing heart or think we have prayed enough; 2) in 18:9–14, we are taught under what con­di­tions we should pray; 3) then, in this Sunday Gos­pel (19:1–10), we have this delight­ful teach­ing that true repent­ance must be accom­pan­ied by repar­a­tion of phys­ic­al, spir­itu­al or psy­cho­lo­gic­al dam­ages caused to the oth­er per­son. In last week’s reflec­tion, I did men­tion that the tax collector’s recog­ni­tion of his sin and his plea for God’s for­give­ness must be accom­pan­ied by the resti­tu­tion of the money he unjustly extor­ted from people. Luke solid­i­fies this affirm­a­tion with the story of Laz­arus. Repent­ance, resti­tu­tion and sal­va­tion are insep­ar­able trio.

A sinner in search of salvation

In Luke 18:9–14, the second per­son that went to the Temple to pray was a tax col­lect­or. His man­ner of pray­er indic­ates his sin­ful state as a tax col­lect­or. As I stated last week, “Tax Col­lect­ors were not well loved by their fel­low Jews due to their alle­gi­ance to the Roman author­ity in terms of tax col­lec­tion. Their love was exclus­ively of those belong­ing to their class, an atti­tude con­demned by Jesus (cf. Matt 5:46–47).” As a seni­or tax col­lect­or, Zac­chaeus had noth­ing to do with Jesus. But he must have heard about him that he became curi­ous to know him. Besides being the chief col­lect­or, Zac­chaeus was also a wealthy man. Nat­ur­ally, as a tax col­lect­or and as a chief tax col­lect­or (Greek: architelōnēs), he must have accu­mu­lated a lot of wealth. His being the chief tax col­lect­or explains the source of his wealth. After inform­ing the read­er that Zac­chaeus was rich, Luke notes he was seek­ing to see Jesus. What was his reas­on? Why was Zac­chaeus eager to see Jesus? Remem­ber, his inten­tion was not to meet Jesus but to have a glimpse of him. We could con­clude that his was a simple curi­os­ity. He must have heard so much about Jesus that he became curi­ous and wanted to see this man who has become so fam­ous and con­tro­ver­sial. What did he do to real­ize his desire?

Surmounting your obstacles

Though nature did not favour him in terms of height, yet this nat­ur­al lim­it­a­tion did not dis­cour­age him and it did not hinder him from real­iz­ing his goal. Without giv­ing up due to his stature and the crowd, Zac­chaeus imme­di­ately found a solu­tion on the syca­more tree. When even­tu­ally he by-passed nature and the crowd by climb­ing the syca­more tree, he waited patiently know­ing that Jesus will def­in­itely pass that way. And he did. We must learn to be patient. There are people who, when they encounter dif­fi­culty or little chal­lenge on their way, they des­pair and lament, look­ing for someone to blame. Neither Zac­chaeus’ stature nor the crowd could frus­trate his effort and determ­in­a­tion to see the source of sal­va­tion. This is really a good les­son. As Robert (Bob) Mar­ley puts it, when one door is closed, anoth­er door opens. Leave the closed door and move to the open door. With determ­in­a­tion, you can always sur­mount the obstacles on your way, the crowd or your stature not­with­stand­ing. Patience and determ­in­a­tion is a magic­al combination.

From curiosity to salvation

What star­ted like a mere curi­os­ity even­tu­ally evolved into some­thing ser­i­ous. From seek­ing to see Jesus, Zac­chaeus the tax col­lect­or ended up not only meet­ing Jesus, but also hav­ing him in his house. As he was admir­ing Jesus from the syca­more tree, Jesus ordered him to come down. When Jesus approached the tree, he said “Zac­chaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Luke observes imme­di­ately that Zac­chaeus “…came down quickly and received him with joy.” Can you ima­gine the scene? Both the crowd and his stature were no longer obstacles. The Jesus he climbed the tree to see is now sit­ting with him in his house. This is really amaz­ing! When Zac­chaeus came down from the tree, he invited Jesus to his house for a tete-a-tete. See­ing-meet­ing-invit­a­tion to his house-grant­ing of sal­va­tion. This is how Zac­chaeus’ life was meta­morph­osed. His mere social curi­os­ity meta­morph­osed into a theo­lo­gic­al encounter. Jesus’ declar­a­tion “…today, I must…” is a salvif­ic state­ment. The same ‘today’ Jesus entered his house was the same ‘today’ sal­va­tion entered his house as well. The ‘today’ is not chro­no­lo­gic­al but theo­lo­gic­al. It is the today of sal­va­tion both for Zac­chaeus and for all who truly repent and make restitutions.

When they all saw this, they grumbled

Often, I won­der why so much sad­ism in the world and even among Chris­ti­ans. There are people who prefer to see oth­ers suf­fer. They wish oth­ers were con­ceived, born, live and even die suf­fer­ing. But as Isai­ah rightly observed, God’s ways and thoughts are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from ours and that of the sad­ists (cf. Isa 55:8). As usu­al, hypo­crites who were watch­ing lamen­ted that Jesus had gone in to the house of a sin­ner. Instead of glor­i­fy­ing God (cf. Luke 4:15), they grumbled. As an expres­sion of dis­sat­is­fac­tion, the Greek verb diag­og­guzō means to com­plain, grumble or mut­ter aloud. That is, the people did not mur­mur but spoke out their dis­agree­ment to the hear­ing of Jesus and Zac­chaeus. In 15:1–2, Luke reports that when tax col­lect­ors and sin­ners gathered to listen to Jesus’ teach­ings, the Phar­isees and the Scribes muttered (diag­og­guzō) “this man wel­comes Sin­ners ad eats with them.” For the self-acclaimed right­eous, Jesus should keep away from Zac­chaeus and his likes. Both Jesus and Zac­chaeus totally ignored the people and their com­plaint. Learn to ignore some people and some situ­ations and move forward.

Repentance and restitution

As noted above, instead of wor­ry­ing him­self about the grumbling of the people, Zac­chaeus made known to Jesus his will­ing­ness to amend his wrong way of life. He imme­di­ately accep­ted offer­ing half of his pos­ses­sions to the poor. Instead of accu­mu­lat­ing his riches for him­self alone, he now under­stands the neces­sity of shar­ing with oth­ers, espe­cially, the less priv­ileged. Again, he prom­ised to restore four times over whatever he might have extor­ted from people. This is repent­ance in the true sense. Zac­chaeus’ fourfold repay­ment is in agree­ment with the stip­u­la­tions of the Law in Exodus 22:1. Extort­ing prop­erty or money from someone is steal­ing. And the law con­demns it (cf. Exod 20:15). Hence, whatever is extor­ted or stolen must be returned because steal­ing deprives oth­ers of what God has entrus­ted unto them. There­fore, every repent­ance must be accom­pan­ied by the resti­tu­tion of the object in ques­tion. The thing to be resti­tuted could be mater­i­al or spir­itu­al. Unlike the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment, the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment is more expli­cit and emphat­ic on the issue of resti­tu­tion (cf. Exod 21:33–34; 22:1–7; Num 5:5–7; Lev 6:5; 2Sam 12:5–6; Prov 6:31; Ezek 33:14–15).

Jesus’ pres­ence in the house of Zac­chaeus the chief Pub­lic­an has both theo­lo­gic­al and soteri­olo­gic­al implic­a­tions. Accept­ing to go to Zac­chaeus’ house is part of Jesus’ mis­sion to save those who acknow­ledge they are sin­ners (cf. Luke 5:32) and thus, lead them to sal­va­tion after they must have sin­cerely repen­ted. By going to his house, Jesus assures Zac­chaeus that he is not excluded from that Gos­pel which he has come to pro­claim to the poor (cf. Luke 4:18). Since Zac­chaeus showed he was sick and needed the phys­i­cian, Jesus, the ulti­mate phys­i­cian wasted no time in dia­gnos­ing his sick­ness and recom­mend­ing the best cure for him (cf. Mark 2:17). By giv­ing half of his wealth to the poor, Zac­chaeus has learnt to be rich towards God; do char­ity and make him­self purse which do not wear out; and dis­trib­ute his riches to the needy as com­manded by Jesus (cf. Luke 12:21.33; 18:22). He can now fol­low Jesus and earn him­self the basilea tou ouranou.

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