"I must stay"
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Last week Jesus told a parable about a tax collector and this week he meets a real, live tax collector, named Zacchaeus.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.
I think St. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus is a tax collector and rich so that we know that he has probably been dishonest, collecting more money from his neighbours than he was supposed to, and keeping some for himself. We know that the other people in Jericho did not think Zacchaeus was a good person; they call him a sinner.
But Zacchaeus, even though he is a sinner, really wants to see Jesus. I wonder who put that desire in his heart?
Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because Jesus was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
Zacchaeus gets even more than he had wanted! Jesus sees him, knows him, calls out to him, and tells him that he must stay at his house. Remember the very first line of the gospel reading? Jesus was passing through Jericho. He wasn't planning to stop. But, when he sees Zacchaeus up in that tree, he changes his plans. Now, it is necessary, Jesus says, that he remains in Jericho at Zacchaeus' home!
If we said that Jesus stays with Zacchaeus even though he is a sinner, would that be correct? Jesus says,
the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.
Jesus stays with Zacchaeus because he is a sinner. That's what God does.
We can be lost when we don't know where we are, but we can also get lost when we choose the wrong way, can't we? Zacchaeus has been lost because he has made wrong choices.
We all make wrong choices sometime. I don't mean accidents or mistakes. I mean we all--sometimes--choose to do the wrong thing. We know that Jesus says, "do good to those who hate you," and we know that if everybody did good to those who hate us, there would be a lot less hate. There might even be love. But how good it can feel, for a while anyway, to say something mean about someone, or to do something mean because they really aren't very nice. Sometimes, when we are really angry, we can say or do something nasty even to the people we love. These choices can make us feel really rotten. These choices can make us feel like we really aren't very good. They can make us think that Jesus--if he were here--wouldn't really want to spend time with us.
But what is the good news here? Jesus says,
I must stay.
He says this to Zacchaeus. He says it to each one of us. This tells us two things:
1) He is already here with us.
2) He wants to stay with us.
That is good news indeed.
With Zacchaeus, we welcome Jesus with joy!