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Thursday, 27 October 2022 08:43

Making assumptions

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.

When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’ (Luke 19:1-10)

Reflection - Making assumptions

It is all too easy to make assumptions about other people which turn out not to be accurate. In the Gospel today, the crowd assumes that Zacchaeus is wicked and sinful, a traitor to his people because he is a tax collector.

The scene for the Gospel is, as usual, set by the first reading from the Book of Wisdom – in praise of a God whose love for what he has created allows him to overlook sins. God is all-powerful and all-merciful, the lover of all he creates and the lover of all life, ‘whose imperishable spirit is in all’. God corrects his people through forgiveness, drawing people away from evil and towards trust in himself.

This loving, forgiving action of God is on show in the Gospel story. Where we might have expected Jesus’ to condemn Zacchaeus, as the crowds do by excluding him and labelling him a ‘sinner’, Jesus recognises the good that Zacchaeus does even in his so-called ‘sinful’ situation (being a tax collector on behalf of the Roman government). Salvation does not lie in appearing to be good, but in being good. Such a person is truly a ‘son of Abraham’ – one of God’s chosen.

It might be helpful to note here that in Zacchaeus’ speech about intending to give half of his property to the poor and so on, the verbs are usually translated into future tense, as in the version which appears here. In the original Greek manuscripts, however, the verbs are unambiguously in the present tense. So Zacchaeus is describing how he presently conducts his life – a defence against the condemnation of the crowd that he is a ‘sinner’ and a traitor.

It is the crowd who turns out to be ‘what was lost’, not Zacchaeus.

Read against the background of Luke’s community, the story raises questions about judging on appearances, who is truly at rights with God, who is truly the sinner. An echo of last week’s parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
Most of all, building from the first reading, it is a story about the God who does not judge and punish as we would, but who loves, forgives, heals and reconciles people to one another.

When Jesus pronounces Zacchaeus a ‘son of Abraham’ he removes the barrier between the crowd and Zacchaeus and reconciles them.

Download to read or print our Celebrating At Home prayers, reading and reflection for this Sunday:

pdf Celebrating At Home 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time [PDF] (3.49 MB)                  
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