Homily for the thirty-first Sunday of the year - Year C - Lk. 19:1-10
Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
" Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, «Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.» So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, «He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.» And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, «Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.» And Jesus said to him, «Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.» "
" Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. "
Everything, or almost everything, in this passage of the gospel tells us about the entry of the Lord into the glory of his Father, with all the elect, at the end of time. First, we are a few days from the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, an entry that prefigures that of the Lord into Heaven, with all the elect, on the Day of eternity. Next, we are in Jericho, an ancient pagan city, whose walls long ago were destroyed through the intervention of the Lord, who commanded the army of Joshua to march around the city several times with the Ark of the Covenant, to the sound of trumpets (cf. Joshua 6:2 et seq.), trumpets which already announced the coming of Jesus some 1200 later, but which above all prefigured those which will sound on the day of the Last Judgment.
" And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was. "
Although he is not crazy, Zacchaeus has an obsession: he wants to know who this Jesus is, whom he had been hearing about for almost three years. Or rather, Zacchaeus is a little crazy, crazy about God: he has been affected by that folly which astounds people who are called normal but who are in fact too earthbound, which Saint Paul calls the "foolishness of God", which "is wiser than men" (1 Cor. 1:25). This holy folly, as we see in Zacchaeus, has for its object the knowledge of God. Now, Jesus, in a few days, on the evening of Holy Thursday, will say as he prays to his Father: "This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God..." (Jn. 17:3) But, of course, knowing the Father or knowing Jesus is the same thing, as one is the Image of the other... If we know Jesus, if we know the Father, we have already entered into eternal Life: the last day of our life has already come!
" And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. "
Zacchaeus wants to know Jesus. But there is something that hinders him: he is too short to see over the crowd that surrounds him and get a glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus is, as it were, buried in the crowd: it is as if the crowd were his tomb... Zacchaeus lies buried in the crowd of people taller than him, it is as if he were in a coffin dropped deep into a hole that had just been dug. But, o miracle of nature, Zacchaeus is resurrected and rises up: he climbs up a sycamore in order to see Jesus as he passes by! Already, Zacchaeus is resurrected and rises up at the sound of the trumpet that calls all the dead to rise: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first..." (1 Thess. 4:16).
Why did Zacchaeus climb a tree, a sycamore? We are in a city. Would there not be a building along Jesus' path from which Zacchaeus could get a good view? Perhaps. But Zacchaeus preferred a tree, because he was to give us a sign, that of the Son of Man: Jesus. When, near Bethsaida, the Lord healed the blind man, the men seen by the latter at first appeared to be trees, and only afterwards did he see them clearly (cf. Mk. 8:22-26). For trees are signs of men, as intermediaries and mediators; they are a sign of the Son of Man: "I am the true vine..." (Jn. 15:1) So Zacchaeus climbs a tree, a sycamore, which serves as a means, an intermediary, a mediator by which he can see Jesus, who is eternal Life!
" And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, «Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.» So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. "
Jesus looks up to see Zacchaeus! What an astonishing scene! Jesus, who in a few days will lower his eyes and keep silence before the high priest Caiaphas (cf. Mt. 26:63), here raises his eyes to he who seeks by all possible means to know him and to love him! Jesus wants to reward with his glance he who testifies, before everyone, to his already-growing faithfulness to the Savior of men, whereas, on the eve of his Passion, Jesus will give Simon Peter (cf. Lk. 22:61) a look of compassion mixed with reproach for he who will have denied him...
Finally, Zacchaeus gives us another sign. And it is the Lord himself who gives us the key to its interpretation. For Zacchaeus, who is high up, must come down: "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down...." It is a sign, a still distant image of the following prophecy of our Lord at the beginning of his preaching: "You shall see greater things than these... Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." (Jn. 1:50-51) Jesus sees these things when he looks at Zacchaeus up in that sycamore!
" And when they saw it they all murmured, «He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.» And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, «Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.» And Jesus said to him, «Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.» "
We are not always capable of giving half of our goods to the poor, and this is so for various reasons. All of our Christian life must be governed by the virtue of prudence. Each of us must give to the poor according to the measure of graces we have received. Let us ask Mary to show us the way that leads to Jesus, ascending and descending in accordance with what the Lord will let us know through his Spirit and through those with whom we live each day!