There are a couple of interesting points to consider in today’s gospel story about Zaccheus. For one, it is surprising that Jesus is not primarily interested in sin, but in the effects that sin has on the sinner and those around the sinner. Zaccheus is a tax collector who extorts money from his own people, thereby making financially vulnerable people even poorer. They understandably ostracize him and his whole household in return. Thus Zaccheus becomes isolated and his neighbors are more defenseless as a result of his sin.
But Jesus is not afraid of Zaccheus’ sinfulness; Jesus is not chastising Zaccheus for greed or treachery. What Jesus does immediately is to heal the corrosive effects of sin. He dines with Zaccheus, thereby breaking the social quarantine he brought upon himself. Bursting with gratitude in return, Zaccheus promises to pay back what he has stolen and then care for the poor. Not only does Jesus’ presence blot out the sin, his willingness to meet with Zaccheus secured greater care for the vulnerable who previously had their hard-earned money wrested from them by Zaccheus. Jesus turned their enemy into their caretaker!
And yet Jesus did not tell Zaccheus to follow him like he did another tax collector, Matthew. Why? Perhaps Jesus wanted Zaccheus to live his converted life where he was because it was for the greater common good. Presumably Matthew was called to follow Jesus more radically for the same greater good.
Young men asking whether they might be called to become Jesuits often mention that it is daunting to accept a vocation to the priesthood because it is such a holy calling. While true of any calling from God, the reality is that there is nothing holier than being who God makes each one of us to be. The first step to cleansing the effects of sin from life is to invite Jesus to stay with you. Out of gratitude for his presence, your heart will tell you what you should do as Jesus’ friend.
—Fr. Jim Prehn, SJ, is Vocation Director for the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus. Learn more about the Jesuits at www.thinkjesuit.org