Sunday Scriptures

Lessons From a Tax Collector

by Father John P. Cush

The Gospel we proclaim this Sunday features a rather enigmatic figure, one whom we read about only in this Gospel passage: Zacchaeus. What can we learn from this story of this “short-in-stature” man, a chief tax collector, a man who changes his life, who climbs a sycamore tree because he was “seeking to see who Jesus was”?

First, do we recognize that Our Lord Jesus wants our salvation? Jesus knows us, inside and out. He knows our faults and failing, he knows our sins. Yes, God knows us inside and out and still he loves us. This Jesus loves us! He opens his arms on the cross in an embrace of love and in the red rain that is his Precious Blood washes us clean. The Lord wants one thing — our salvation.

Second, little Zacchaeus, a man of wealth, a man of means, is willing to embarrass himself, climbing the sycamore tree to see the Lord Jesus, to view this man about whom he has heard so much. He is willing to “go out on a limb,” risking his pride, risking his reputation, to see Jesus.

Granted, Zacchaeus is a man who, as a tax collector, is not respected by his own Jewish community. He is considered to be a cheat, thought to be a collaborator with the oppressors, the Romans; but, in reality, Zacchaeus probably was living a rather comfortable life. He has all he needs. And with all this in mind, this little man shows great spirit to risk his way of life to see and follow the Lord.

What are we willing to risk to follow the Lord? It is a dangerous thing to posit belief in a God whom we cannot see. It is a scary thing to live our lives in accordance with the teachings of a man who lived over 2,000 years ago. What if we’re wrong? What if we spend our entire lives trying to live good lives of service and love and ultimately find out that there is nothing else, that we could have done whatever we wanted, even the most immoral of activities?

The question needs to be asked: Do I truly believe that there really is a God? And do I believe that this God has revealed Himself to the world in Christ? And do I really believe that the Lord Jesus’ life continues on today in His Body, the church? Am I willing to risk it, putting aside my fear and uncertainty to follow Christ?

This fear can exist not only in questions of the existence of God, the revelation of Christ and the necessity of the church in general, but can also be extended to our own lives. If God exists, why should He love me with all my faults, with all my sins, with all my problems and anxieties?

This fear and doubt can extend to our life choices. We can doubt ourselves in our relationships with others — being afraid to let others into our lives, being afraid to love, to be loved and to be vulnerable. Every time we open our mouths, we are being judged. What if the person with whom I share my thoughts betrays me, mocks me or misunderstands me? Am I worthy of the friendship that is offered to me by another? Am I lovable?

Overcoming the fear that exists in us is essential for our lives of faith. The only way to do so is to keep on going, gazing intently on Jesus — the way, the truth and the life for us. If we trust in him who cannot deceive or be deceived, if we are open to his healing and trust in the plan that he has for our lives, we will know his healing and his peace. This week, be like Zacchaeus — don’t be afraid to go out on a limb to see Jesus who loves us and who desires nothing more than to save us.

Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 11:22—12:2

Psalm 145 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14

2 Thessalonians 1:11—2:2

Luke 19:1-10

Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College, Rome.