Wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10
The stage is set for Zacchaeus the wealthy tax collector. Tax collectors were among the most despised people in the society. The tax system itself ensured that. Their wages were the shekels they could extort from their own people over and above what they collected for the occupying Roman powers. Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector,” one of the best at his job. Everything that Luke has written about wealth prepares us for a fierce confrontation between Jesus and Zacchaeus. What we hear instead is an invitation to dinner.
On other occasions when Jesus consorted with “tax collectors and sinners,” it was the Pharisees who complained. But on this occasion “all who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’” All, even his own followers.
Where are we to situate ourselves in this scene? It comes natural to us to place the Pharisees among the ‘baddies’, thereby placing ourselves among the ‘goodies’. But in this case we are inescapably included in the ‘all’.
It is a trick of the mind to divide the world into camps. It provides an opportunity to place ourselves on the high ground (that's why we do it). But this time it is impossible. God's mercy doesn’t follow the contours of the land as we map it. It doesn’t restrict itself to the narrow channels that we construct leading (surprise!) to our own door. It floods out everywhere. We see this happening in the behaviour of Jesus.
It would be a useful exercise to make a top-ten list of villains: criminals, terrorists, financiers, politicians from the other side, a few industrialists…. In your imagination sit down with them, one by one, in the company of Jesus, and see how the conversation goes….
By Donagh O'Shea