The WORD in Other Words by Fr Magdaleno Fabiosa SVD (Philippines) 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Palestine in Jesus‘ time was under the rule of a foreign power — the Romans. Necessarily, this foreign power had to live out from the support of the ordinary people through imposed taxes. Collecting taxes was assigned to chosen local people who were used by the foreign power to exploit their fellow Jew. Consequently, these local tax collectors were hated. To renumerate themselves for their work, the tax collectors collected beyond the quota given to them by the Romans and enriched themselves.
That is why today‘s reading says: he was a tax collector and was a very rich man. It is not hard to understand, therefore, that tax collectors were not only hated by their own people; they were also categorized as sinners whose company was to be avoided like a contagious disease. Every Jew believed that tax collectors were not included in God‘s concern and love. They were not part of God‘s embrace. That‘s why when the crowd heard that Jesus was going to Zacchaeus‘ house, they must have gasped in disbelief saymg among themselves: he is going to a sinner‘s house as a guest.
Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner. It was part of his self-understanding that he was far away from God and that he was already condemned. As a sinner, he was not worth given attention to by Jesus who, at that time, every Jew believed as somebody special sent by God, a representative of God.
As the crowd that milled around Jesus drew nearer the tree he climbed, all of a sudden this Jesus called him by name and invited himself to eat at his house. In the Jewish culture, knowing somebody by name and eating with that somebody indicated one‘s desire to enter into a deep, personal, and loving relationship with a person. It means accepting a person into one‘s circle of friends. In short, they were indications of one‘s love for a person.
The love shown by Jesus melted all his fears. He felt like everybody else, a son of Abraham loved by God despite everything in his life, despite his being a tax collector, He was loved by God. This was the only thing that mattered. This was also the turning point in the life of Zacchaeus. After this experience, he promised to reform his life.
It is interesting how the gospel today ends. Jesus says: ” Today salvation has come to this house,” for this is what it means to be a son of Abraham — to accept that we are loved the way we are, despite everything in our life and to live our lives accordingly. There are no conditions of God‘s love. After this experience, Zacchaeus was a new man; the newness did come from any effort on his own to ameliorate. It came from an unmistakable experience that he was loved by God as he was. God did not demand anything. His love was freely given. Saivandos saivas gratis. He freely (gratis) saved those who needed to be saved.