(The Nationalist, October 2004)
One of the most delightful – and funny – stories in the Gospel is about a man called Zacchaeus. Jesus came to Jericho one day and Zacchaeus wanted to see him, but couldn’t, because he was short, so he climbed up a tree to get a better look. You can be sure that some smart remarks were made about him, because he was a senior tax-collector and a wealthy man.
Jesus looked up at him in the tree, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. His doing so was an act of trust, as if to say, ‘I know you won’t refuse’. Jesus looked to the good in him. Trust from Jesus, joy from Zacchaeus. And then Zacchaeus said, ‘I am going to give half my property to the poor…’
But he still had some way to go. He said, ‘If I have cheated anybody, I will pay him back four times the amount’. There wasn’t any ‘if’ about it; he had cheated. The way the system worked, tax-gathering was privatized, up for auction to the highest bidder. Cheating was inbuilt in the system. (People in Turkey erected a monument to an honest tax collector, they were so rare.)
Zacchaeus went a little bit crazy; his restitution was over what the law required; it was not merely just, it was generous. Love is a little bit crazy and doesn’t count the cost.
The begrudgers were there, too, on that day, in full force and negativity, complaining. Zacchaeus had the guts to face them down: ‘he stood his ground’ – but not on his dignity. They looked at a person, saw only his faults, and said ‘Why?’ Jesus looked at a person, saw his potential, and said, ‘Why not?’ Charity is an active hope for what the other can become – with the help of my fraternal support; it has an understanding cordiality that nourishes hope.
The story is a summary of the Gospel: ‘Today salvation has come to this house…. The Son of Man has come to seek out and to save what was lost’.