The tie in between today’s readings: God’s Intervention
Psalm 145:1-2; 8-14, Wisdom 11:22-12:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, Luke 19:1-10
A thin, well-dressed professional opened the door to his waiting room and beckoned the wee little man to join him inside his office. He complied and stretched out on the sofa. “Zacchaeus,” he said as he sat down with a notepad, “I just want to let you know that this is the last part of your family’s court petition to intervene on your mental capacity to handle your own affairs. I’ll be making my recommendation after today. Let’s pick up with your developmental years.”
“Well Doc, I’m short. People always looked down on me if you pardon that worn out pun. All my life they pushed me around, made me the butt of their jokes. I’m nobody’s fool! I became a tax collector. I cheated and extorted my way to tremendous wealth. If anyone had a problem with me, I had the whole Roman army as back up. I didn’t care that they never liked me, but I vowed that they were going to respect me. Things were moving right along and then I start hearing about Jesus.”
“Since you brought him up, tell me more about this carpenter’s son.”
Zacchaeus sat up, faced the psychiatrist, and said, “At first, it was just rumors. Then I started to meet people at my collection table that claimed Jesus healed them: blind, crippled, demon possessed, lepers. All cured! All leading productive lives and paying taxes. This Rabbi was great for business! I wasn’t sure if I believed them or not. Then I met the centurion who told me that Jesus healed his servant without ever even being there! That settled it for me.”
“Well, it wasn’t just the miracles. People were telling me about His teachings and stories. He is in a class by himself. He shuts down those phony Pharisees out to get him and at the same time, he has compassion for the lowliest among us. I met two of his disciples when they came through town. They confirmed everything that I heard and more. They believe that he is the Messiah and I do too.”
The skeptical Psychiatrist looked over his glasses at him. “Really, Zacchaeus?”
“You don’t understand.” he replied, “There’s more to Jesus than meets the eye. Things are happening. He says that there’s a new Kingdom of Heaven coming. There’s something about him that offers me…hope.”
“What do you mean by hope?” he asked.
“I was at an impasse. I had the money, power, and respect that I wanted, but it wasn’t satisfying. Life was meaningless and, at the end of it all, I would be judged as a sinner and condemned by God. I had no idea where to go. Jesus had the answers. Jesus was the answer. He, as I understood it, could even forgive sins! That’s why I had to see him when he came into town.”
“And so, you climbed a tree? Zacchaeus, don’t you find that a little odd for a man of your age?” he asked as he finished an entry.
“People were shoving me around and you know nobody was going to let me up front. This was my only chance to see him. Sure, I climbed a tree,” he asserted.
“Now here is the crucial part of my evaluation as I understand it. Something happened when you encountered this Jesus that dramatically altered you. Am I right?”
“Yes, He looked up at me and knew my name. I felt an unexplainable connection with him, and I realized, in that moment, that everything that I hoped for in Jesus was true. He accepted me and wanted to stay with me…me of all people: a lying, extorting, scoundrel! I don’t even remember scrambling down the tree trunk. I didn’t even care about the snide remarks behind me as the crowd parted to let me pass to him. I pledged half my possessions to the poor and a four times repayment to anyone that I had cheated. Jesus smiled and said that he came for the sole purpose of finding and saving people just like me. The greatest burden of my life was lifted. Jesus had forgiven me. He called a traitor tax collector like me a child of Abraham!”
The analyst put down his notepad and look Zacchaeus straight in the eye. “Listen and think hard. Do you think that your wildly generous vow was due to a temporary insanity in the heat of the moment when you met your Jesus Messiah? Zacchaeus, you offered to give everything you ever worked for away. Your family is concerned. In retrospect, now that you had time to reflect on your decision, do you want to change your mind?”
“No, no I don’t. God and I have had an intervention. I am his child now and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. I am acting like one by making reparations and helping others. Poverty with Jesus is better than wealth without salvation.”
“OK, thank you, Zacchaeus. I have enough to make my recommendation to the court on deciding what they will do with you.”
“It really doesn’t matter to me what the courts decide. Take my money or let me give it away. I have permanent riches in heaven, but, Doc, what about you? Are your sins forgiven? The Kingdom of God is at hand. The real question is not your evaluation of me, but what will you do with Jesus?”
Our readings today can help fill in the story behind Zacchaeus and his changed life. In summarizing Wisdom 11:22-12:2, we see that God has mercy on sinners, even hard cases like Zacchaeus. He intervenes in their lives that they may come to faith and leave their wickedness. Jesus is the means of this intervention by His cross and resurrection. Faith in Him results in a new life, which is noted in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. We now have a calling to live for God. Our reading in Psalm 145 ties it all together with praise to our Lord for his grace, mercy, and lovingkindness, which prompted His intervention in the first place.
Tradition claims that Zacchaeus later became the first bishop of Caesarea, not a bad way to end. Do you sense God leading you to an intervention? What will you do with Jesus? He is still saving sinners. No one is beyond His love. Don’t fight it! Give up your sins. Come to Christ for forgiveness. He will change your life.