10.30.2022 Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Willem van Swanenburg (1580-1612) was born in Leiden. He learned drawing and engraving from his father, together with his brothers Jacob (1572–1652) and Claes (1572–1652), who both became respected painters. He was a respected engraver who became "Hopman" (flag-bearer) of the Leiden Schutterij, but died young.
Description of the print
“The tax collector is kneeling inside a room, in profile to left. He has one hand clutched to his chest and the other pointing at bags with coins in lower left. The same man is seen in a tree during Christ's entry in Jericho".
Luke 19: 1-10
1“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today’. 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’. 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much’. 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost’”.
Last week’s Gospel Reading introduces us into the well-known narrative of the conversion of Zacchaeus. The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector has set the background for the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus. Also in this occasion, the main protagonist is himself a man with a rather ill reputation: a Tax Collector.
Saint Luke is a master storyteller. He is not satisfied with plain general statements like: “Jesus mixed with sinners and Tax Collectors”. He feels the need to describe these vivid stories which stick to the mind of his readers. His narratives have elicited the imagination of artists down the Centuries and continue to inspire us Christians in our discipleship.
Luke seems to be telling us: “This happened long ago in Jericho; But, who is the Tax Collector (Zacchaeus) for you today?”
Yet, before we try to answer this question, let us first see who Zacchaeus was in the Gospel of Saint Luke and what this story must have meant for the audience of Jesus.
First of all, a note about Jericho. Jericho is the town where the encounter took place. We are not told whether Zacchaeus was born in Jericho or if he was there just by appointment. It seems that Jericho was where he lived, the town where he collected taxes for the foreigner Roman Governors.
We notice that Zacchaeus must have been good at his job since he had won the right to become a “Chief Tax Collector”. He was at the top of his career. This not only implies a certain degree of respect of other Publicans, Tax Collectors and for the Roman Local Authorities, it also implies that he must have been good at cheating and imposing unnecessary burdens on the Tax Payer because he is described as being “wealthy”.
Excessive taxing continues to be very unpopular even nowadays! But let us remember that as a rich man, a priori Zacchaeus should experience a great difficulty liberating himself from attachment to possessions. When witness his outstanding generosity we need to acknowledge that Zacchaeus is a living example of how the impossible by men, is being made possible by Jesus (God) .
It is not the first time in the Gospel of Luke that we see the anti-hero protagonist at play. Jesus time and again mixes with Tax Collectors, Samaritans, Widows and Lepers.
After having heard last week the Parable of the Pharisee and a Tax Collector praying in the Temple, here, the Tax Collector has a name and a personality.
We have already mentioned his name several times; as for his personality, we are given a few hints:
He was curious about who Jesus was;
Apart from the reference to his small stature, we can see that Zacchaeus is not afraid of exposing his reputation by doing publicly something as childish as climbing a tree.
However, neither his physical condition nor the crowd (in this context, the crowd stands for what does not allow us to come closer to God) stops him from meeting Jesus.
Poor Zacchaeus! He must have been all bruised at the end of the day, after all the fighting and fisting in order to make his way through the crowd to have a glimpse of Jesus, and have a word with him.
God takes the initiative
In matters of faith, we are reminded that God takes the initiative. We can just answer to the invitations of God.
One should expect that people take offence at Zacchaeus for being a sort of traitor of his own people; however, there is a twist in the story that is significant for us believers. Once again, Jesus takes upon himself “the sins of the world” and frees us from sin and shame. People take offence not at Zacchaeus, but at Jesus.
As an effect of the grace bestowed upon him, Zacchaeus proclaims by his deeds that he is not a sinner anymore. He resolved to change his ways. Now he reclaimed his real identity: he is the true Zacchaeus (“Clean”) .
He is a generous giver, his decision to give out his wealth is acknowledged by Jesus who asserts his conversion. The public sinner, the Tax Collector was determined to show that his life had been transformed, there and then.
The presence of Jesus makes possible the humanly impossible: a wealthy man gets through the needle’s eye, but not without some radical changes.
This sinner has been included into God’s chosen people and Jesus fulfils the Old Testament prophecies: He is the Good Shepherd who has gone to Jericho to find the lost and bring him to the place to where he belongs: the Kingdom of God.
O God, who in your Son have come to seek and save the lost,
make us worthy of your call: bring to fulfilment our every wish for good,
so that we may know how to welcome you joyfully
into our house to share the goods of the earth
and of heaven.
“I will extol you, O my God and King, and I will bless your name forever and ever. Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might. The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works. The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down”.
The attitude of Jesus in defence of the marginalized had grave consequences for him. God continues to vindicate the right of every human person to have access to the mercy and love of God.
There and then, in meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus knew that he was ready to make a radical conversion and nothing was to prevent him from making it possible. It is never late to turn to the Lord.
Curiosity about Jesus and about Scriptures will lead us to discover the image of God anew and to deepen our faith. Zacchaeus is a good example of a man who risked every bit of his reputation for whatever was worth.
Luke (16:9) reminds us of the words of Jesus: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes”. The same calling resounds in our ears and in our hearts: “How can I use my ‘wealth’ to get closer to God?
After our meditation we can address now the original question presented at the beginning of our presentation: “Who is the Tax Collector (Zacchaeus) for me today?”
 BARCLAY, William, “The Daily Study Bible. The Gospel of Luke”, The Saint Andrew Press, 1975, p. 234: “Jericho was a very wealthy and a very important town… It had a great palm forest and world-famous balsam groves which perfumed the air for miles around. <its gardens of roses were known far and wide. Men called it “The City of Palms”… The Romans carried its dates and balsam to world-wide trade and fame … One of the greatest taxation centres in Palestine”.  “Publicans were Public Contractors, in whose official capacity they often supplied the Roman Legions and Military, managed the collection of port duties, and oversaw public building projects. In addition, they served as Tax Collectors for the Roman Republic (and later the Roman Empire), farming the taxes of the Roman Provinces, and bidding on contracts (from the Senate in Rome) for the collection of various types of taxes. Importantly, this role as Tax Collectors was not emphasized until late into the history of the Republic (c. 1st Century BC)”. (Cf. Wikipedia: “Publicans”).  Luke 5: 29: “Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them”. Luke 18: 24-27: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God’”.  “The sycamore has been mentioned several times throughout the Jewish Bible, having been noted as one of the ‘Plants of the Bible’. The sycamore is in the same family as the common fig tree, and figs are one of the seven native species of Israel. Sycamore trees also grew abundantly in the Jordan Valley, the Galilee and Jerusalem, and its wood was highly valued by the people of Palestine because of its lightness and durability. Therefore, the tree has historically been a giver of fruit and wood, and the people who lived among the sycamores knew that they could rely on it for their livelihood”. https://classroom.synonym.com/what-does-the-sycamore-tree-symbolize-12080014.html  In describing the words “all grumble”, the Jerome Biblical Commentary says: “The generic ‘all murmur’ refers to Jesus’ crossing of the boundaries separating clean from unclean”. The name Zacchaeus etymologically means: “The clean one”. BROWN, Raymond E. (ed.) et al, “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Student Edition”, Geoffrey Chapman, 1990, p. 711. BARCLAY, William, Ibid. p. 235: “In his restitution he went far beyond what was legally necessary. Only if robbery was a deliberate and violent act of destruction was a fourfold restitution necessary (Exodus 22: 1: “When someone steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, the thief shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep”). Matthew 6: 24: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”. Ezekiel 36: 14-15: “You shall no longer devour people and no longer bereave your nation of children, says the Lord God; and no longer will I let you hear the insults of the nations, no longer shall you bear the disgrace of the peoples; and no longer shall you cause your nation to stumble, says the Lord God”.