Often when I hear the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, I imagine Jesus calling him down from that tree out of pity, as if Jesus sees this little tax collector, perched in a tree like a child, almost falling out, trying to get a glimpse of the Christ. What Jesus sees is a foolish predicament for Zacchaeus to find himself. But I don’t think that is what Luke is trying to tell us at all in this passage. In fact, I think this is the wrong way to think of this story all together.
Jesus does not call to Zacchaeus,
Jesus does not call to me,
Jesus does not call to you or anybody else out of pity!
Pity is NOT part of Jesus’ vocabulary!
Zacchaeus reminds us today of two things: He reminds us to ask the questions who we are and whose we are, and he reminds us to show up.
First: Who is Zacchaeus? Well we get a superficial answer in the scriptures. In fact, I think Luke uses a physical, surface level description of Zacchaeus to highlight how people judged his inner thoughts. What Luke is doing by describing Zacchaeus as a person “short in stature” physically is demonstrating that he must also be short in character because he was a tax collector. See Luke knows we often judge a book by its cover. But he flips the script on us because, in this small package, we are reminded once again that with the faith of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.
Zacchaeus knows who he is, and therefore he knows who he is not. He is not his sin. He is not his lies. He is not his fears. He is not his doubts. Zacchaeus is a sinner, but that is NOT who he is. Zacchaeus, aware of his sinfulness, knows whose he is. He is created in the image and likeness of God; he is blessed with a dignity and worth that, since it was given by God, nobody or no one can take away; he is a descendant of Abraham, a beloved child of God: that’s who he belongs to.
Second: We need to show up. Knowing that he is a child of God, gifted with dignity and worth, and possessing a faith that can move mountains, we read in today’s scripture that Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” Jesus was just passing by, doing what Jesus does along the way. But it was Zacchaeus who sought out the Lord in the first place. Zacchaeus is willing to do whatever it takes to get to know Jesus; he is willing to risk it all to get in right relationship with his Lord. He shows up. He runs ahead. He climbs a tree and literally will put himself out on a limb to be with Jesus.
So what about me…and you?
—Adam DeLeon, S.J. is a Jesuit scholastic studying theology in preparation for ordination at Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA.