The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
November 3, 2019 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 19:1-10
Imagine what it’s like to walk down the street and know that everyone you pass casts a hateful glance in your direction. They might even utter a few chosen bad words your way. That was the fate of Zacchaeus whom we meet in today’s gospel. The reason for his bad reputation had to do with his occupation. He was the chief tax collector for the Romans, hated occupiers of Jericho, a town that stood near the Jordan River, a little east of Jerusalem. No good Jew liked Zacchaeus.
As the reputation spread of Jesus being a very special person of God, crowds gathered to watch him as he passed through various towns and villages. Zacchaeus wanted to see him, so he stood hiding in the shadows by the roadside, which ended up being less than a good idea because he was short. Short people see better when standing in the front, not in the back.
Jesus was quite observant and to the surprise and displeasure of everyone, called out to the diminutive tax collector. “How about dinner at your place?” Everyone, including Zacchaeus, was shocked. Jesus was known to be a good man while we know what the crowd thought of the local tax man. After all, he was charged with getting as much money from the locals as possible. For this task he was backed by Roman swords. And if he did well, he could pocket some of the take for himself. We’re told that he was a rich man, and in this context, that was not a complement. Nevertheless, Jesus sought his company. Sharing a meal in those times (and in ours) indicated a positive connection.
Once again, we are reminded of how Jesus surprised his contemporaries. He was utterly generous in the many ways he related to all those he encountered. He always sought out the poor and the needy. And we might read between the lines here that Zacchaeus needed a friend. He might have been tired of always having to eat alone. Who would want to dine with one like him?
The answer is that Jesus would. There is no limit to his desire to befriend all. No matter what their social standing or personal characteristics. This is also the message of Pope Francis. Some are bothered by the pope’s desire to, as he puts it, go to “the margins of society” and encounter all those in need of help and support. Poor or rich, tall or short. Everyone is welcome. Look around and see who’s in need of your companionship.
©David M. Thomas, PhD