In a way, Zaccheus had it much easier than we. He knew viscerally that something was amiss; that’s why he had decided to go and see who Jesus was. He was so determined to see Jesus that he disregarded decorum by running and by climbing a sycamore tree just like a playful kid.
It might be much more complicated for us. We might spot a Zaccheus or two among our acquaintances, but chances are, we do not see ourselves as a modern-day Zaccheus. Now, if we do not see ourselves as a Zaccheus, we are missing out on the lasting joy that Jesus can bring into our life.
Zaccheus and his entire household were filled with genuine, enviable joy as soon as they welcomed Jesus into their home. Do we remain outside in the faceless crowd? Do we begin to grumble and, maybe, keep grumbling? Since there isn’t much joy in grumbling, we might want to consider seeing ourselves, for the first time perhaps, as a new Zaccheus. However, such a thought faces a formidable obstacle: our unchallenged, dormant self-righteousness. The original Zaccheus was a big-time thief and a colossal cheat. I mean, he could afford to give half of his possessions to the poor and return four-fold anything extorted from his victims.
There is nothing criminal, nothing bad in our conduct that stands out as a sore thumb. We might be able to say without flinching that our conscience is clear. We need to awake our dormant self-righteousness by considering the basic attitude dominating the consciousness of all saints. Without a single exception, the Saints considered themselves awful sinners justly deserving divine punishment.
Let me submit to you that we do not see ourselves as Zaccheuses because our encounters with the Word of God are kept superficial and we do not let God’s penetrating light show us the actual extent of our spiritual malaise. In her profound wisdom, since many centuries ago, the Church has been suggesting an examination of conscience twice a day (at noon and before retiring). One examination of conscience before retiring for the night could be sufficient to make us realize that our sinfulness is the cause of our grumbling, of our lack of lasting joy.
A curious phenomenon occurs away from the confessional box: the longer people go without availing themselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation the less sins they confess.
But Psalm 51 says it properly: my sin is before me always.
That is the secret of becoming Zaccheuses.
It is the secret for discovering this need, deep inside the recesses of our heart, to go and see who Jesus is, not as a casual stroll down Jericho’s main street, but for a very intimate, personal, tailor-made encounter as a child of God, treasured, and sought after by Jesus. Yes, this is perhaps the largest portion of good news today and ever.
God does an incredible work of preparation in our hearts so that we feel as we must go and see who Jesus is. Zaccheus could not resist. Are we foolish enough or apathetic to the point of putting off experiencing the joy which Jesus alone can bring us? Whenever we lose something even though of little value, we grow restless and upset until it is found.
The Book of Wisdom reveals how “anxious and restless” God is until he finds us. Therefore, you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, o Lord! (Wisdom 12:2)
That is why even in our case, Jesus would say: “Come down quickly, for today I MUST stay at your house.” (Luke 19:5)
Similarly, the goal of this Eucharistic celebration is the salvation, the joy of the entire household; the salvation and the joy of our Church in which God must stay by inviting himself in. All this, my friends, sheds a revealing glow on this Holy Mass today, and whenever we are surprised by Jesus who invites himself “in our house.”
Notice how Mother Church has already prepared a variety of ways (called penitential acts) for us, right at the beginning of Mass, to feel comfortable playing the role of new Zaccheuses. Notice also how Jesus’ Words are meant to elicit a generous, positive response of radical change in our life. And, finally, how the genuine joy that we had experienced so elusive for the longest time, is found around the Table that God shares with this whole household of repentant sinners.