In today’s Gospel, as Jesus enters Jericho, he is swarmed by an unruly mob. On the outskirts of this mob stands a short little fat man named Zacchaeus. Zaccchaeus, we are told, wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Nobody liked Zacchaeus – and rightfully so, for Zacchaeus was a tax collector. He was a dirty, no-good sinner who swindled his fellow Jews in order to line Roman pockets. Jesus subtly – almost silently – called Zacchaeus to conversion. From Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, we can learn three things.
First, Jesus is always the first one to initiate contact. According to Luke, Zacchaeus only wanted to “see who Jesus was” (Lk. 19:2). He had no intention of amending his life, or of inviting Jesus over to his house. Jesus, however, had other plans. “Zacchaeus”, Jesus called, “make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lk. 19:5). Jesus does not wait for Zacchaeus to make the first move. Rather, He is the first one to act. In our own lives too, Jesus is always the first one to act. His grace is previent, meaning he moves towards us before we move towards him. If we are capable of hearing Jesus’ invitation to open up our hearts to him, it is only because he has first initiated contact with us.
Second, Jesus’ invitation allows Zacchaeus to receive Jesus joyfully. In other words, Jesus’ invitation elicits faith. The situation is the same with us. When Jesus invites us to follow him, when he extends his grace towards us, he enables us to respond with faith. Our faithful response to Jesus is not something that we summon up from deep within us. Rather, this faithful response is supernatural and surpasses our natural abilities. Jesus’ invitation allows us to receive him joyfully in faith, just like Zacchaeus.
Third, Zacchaeus – inspired by his faith in Jesus – performs acts of charity. The immediacy of Zacchaeus response is quite striking. Immediately upon receiving Jesus into his home, Zacchaeus exclaims, “Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lk 19:8). After responding to Jesus in faith, Zacchaeus naturally (almost impulsively) begins to give away his property and make amends for any wrong he has done. The life of faith within us operates similarly. Faith must express itself through acts of charity.
These three points – grace, faith and charity – provide the outline for any true conversion. When we encounter Jesus, he reaches out and offers us his grace; through his grace, we can joyfully receive him in faith; this faith, then, leads us to the life of charity.
Ian Mahood – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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