by: Rev. Fr. Rodrigue Azanmasso, CJM
The image of God revealed by Jesus through the striking story of his encounter with Zacchaeus cannot let us indifferent. It is the one of the gaze of God, a gaze which goes deeper in a person and radically transforms him\her from within. In effect any true encounter with God in Jesus Christ seriously impacts our lives.
But first, let us have a look at the first reading. Extracted from the book of wisdom, the first reading, provides the foundation for the generosity shown by Jesus in the gospel. Yes, God as the book of Wisdom said is a Lord lover of souls, he has mercy on all, spares all things because they are his. Here is, for us a good news, a good news proclaimed in the Old Testament, it shows what matters to God; not punishment, rather the conversion of the sinners: you overlook people’ sin that they may repent …you warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you. The first reading shows that all existence is in a vital bond of solidarity with God ... for what you hated you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain unless you willed it or be preserved, had it not be called forth by you? …for you love all things that are and hate nothing that you have made.
The second reading on the other hand is a call to remain strong in our faith and to persevere no matter the circumstances, regardless of the rumors about the end of time. Any revelation, word or letter claiming that the day of the Lord is at hand should never disturb the active serenity of believers. Nevertheless, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him cannot, but be for us a positive event, the awaited event which will definitely transform us.
The gospel as far as it is concerned recounts a very funny event. A rich man Zacchaeus driven by a strong desire to see Jesus decided to climb a sycamore tree like a kid. He longed for Jesus, and despite the two obstructions he faced (the crowd and his short stature), he did what a person of his social status could not do. Jesus opens widely his arms to embrace the one who, once was profiting from the misfortune of his fellow citizens and was despised for that. The sudden and very spectacular conversion of Zacchaeus, his positive attitude toward the poor: behold half of my possession, Lord I shall give to the poor, and his decision to repay four times over those who were victims of his extortion; show his profound gratitude toward God. The encounter with Jesus has transformed him from a self-centeredness to a selflessness. And Jesus proclaimed: today salvation has come to this house. Zacchaeus understood from then on that he should be rich in what matters to God. He understood that, what he was storing up for himself only, and somehow in an unjust way, should be used, first to repair his injustice and next make all the disadvantaged of the society, all those who were weighed down by poverty, happy by giving them what is theirs. Moreover, he understood that this life is passing, that nothing last forever on the earth and that his wealth and glory would not accompany him in his grave, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 49. The economic magnitude of the positive response of Zacchaeus amazes and even mystifies. The conversion of Zacchaeus teaches us that, a true conversion always impacts the society in a practical and tangible way. The truth is that any sincere encounter with God in Jesus Christ necessarily impacts our lives and makes them more generative. In other words, we cannot actually meet God and remain the same persons we were before.
Like in Zacchaeus, there is in each of us, this goodness which is sometimes led astray by our self-centeredness, a goodness which is set aflame when we allow God to enter in our heart and dwell in it: that is what we call conversion.