As the Year of Mercy begins to wind down, the readings of this Sunday remind us once again that, in God, we have Someone who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness ” (Exodus 34:6).
The encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, chief tax collector for the city of Jericho, in today’s gospel, exemplifies Jesus’ heart of mercy towards the despised and rejected of society. Chief tax collectors for a city or region contracted with the Roman government. They bid for the job taking into account how much they needed to collect to cover their bid, hire a staff of assistants, grease the palm of some public officials, and guarantee a good return on investment for themselves. Zacchaeus was a shrewd businessman and had become one of the wealthiest men in the Jericho area.
Nevertheless, his wealth wasn’t bringing him happiness. With all the travelers passing through, Jericho was always current with the latest news which certainly included commentary on what Jesus was doing and saying up in Galilee. Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus. It was more than curiosity that motivated him to climb that tree. His choice to become a tax collector had made him unwelcome at the local synagogue. At that time, he likely thought he would have such a good life with all the money he would make, that giving up the contact with fellow Jews would be worth it. Although he was a non-practising Jew, he was, however, still a believer. No matter how much money he made, the happiness he had hoped to experience eluded him. He may have felt caught, that there was no going back on the decisions he had made…that was, until Jesus came to town.
How has your encounter with Jesus changed the way you used to see your life and its future?