Meditation on a Sinner, Zacchaeus

by Kathleen Glavich, SND on November 18, 2020

in Blogs

Today’s Gospel was the story of Zacchaeus. It reminded me of the time I led a class of ninth graders through a reflection on it. The next day they surprised me by asking for another prayer like that one. Wow! I saved the reflection, and for what it’s worth I’m presenting it here. It may speak to you. Perhaps you will use the structure for a meditation on another Gospel story.

 Still yourself. Put everything away. Relax. Close your eyes.

Quiet Your Mind. Empty it of all thoughts and concerns. Concentrate on God. God is here now, loving you. God is going to communicate a message that has particular meaning for you.

Read. Luke 19:1–10.

Recreate.  Consider Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector, a VIP. He is probably a pompous, bossy man. Perhaps he is overweight. He is not well liked because people know that he lines his pockets with money stolen from them. Although Zacchaeus is a bigshot, he is short. This is his flaw. Maybe it even makes him defensive and tough. But one day Zacchaeus has an encounter that changes his life.

At first he is only curious to see a popular preacher. After straining in vain to look over the shoulders of the taller members of the crowd, he runs ahead and climbs up a tree. How ridiculous: a fat little official hiding in a tree because of his weakness. But from his perch, Zacchaeus can see. In fact, he gets to see more than he planned to.

As Jesus passes below, he glances up and searches out Zacchaeus among the leaves. Jesus reveals his secret. He knows other secrets too. He doesn’t scold Zacchaeus or laugh at him. Rather, he honors him. He invites him into friendship with him. Out of all the people in the crowd, it is Zacchaeus Jesus singles out, and he handles him with gentleness.

Zacchaeus scrambles down out of the tree, maybe with a hand from Jesus, and he gives the proper response. He is delighted. Now that Jesus will dine at his house, Zacchaeus feels six feet tall. He is thrilled that Jesus did not wait for an invitation, but presumed on his hospitality, trusted him.

The crowd mutters that Jesus has gone to a sinner’s house. Zacchaeus does have a reputation. After dining with Jesus, Zacchaeus stands before his family and guests and admits his sin. Then he is really big. He promises the Lord to change, and he offers to make up in a fitting way: Greed was his fault, his remedy will be generosity. Salvation comes to all who welcomed God that day. The crowd, too, would benefit from Zacchaeus’s conversion.

Reflect. Each of us, like Zacchaeus, has shortcomings, weaknesses. Some we can’t help, like having a crooked nose or a funny voice. Some we are responsible for, like being short-tempered or short-sighted. As long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, even to the point of acting like a clown, being up a tree and out on a limb, there is hope. But we must be honest with ourselves. We might not have a crowd to point out our faults. But probably we have someone who hints at the thing about us that makes us squirm.

Jesus dwells within us. He says, “I like you no matter what.” We don’t have to earn his love. He invites us to dine at the Eucharist with him. The strength of our friendship with Jesus is sufficient to effect a change in us. He doesn’t give up on us when we fail. He encourages us like a mother or father teaching a child to walk. We don’t have to hide. He comes for sinners like us. We can be open and stand tall.

Respond. In the presence of Jesus, look at how you are living. What is your shortcoming? How can you repair it? Ask Jesus to help you. Thank him for his loving care that always seeks out the sinner.

• What Gospel story appeals to you for making a similar reflection?

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