The Conversion of Zacchaeus


31 October 2010 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2; Psalm 145; Thess 1:11 – 2:2; Luke 19:1-10


Jericho’s location is strategic. It made itself very rich and significant. Located at the Jordan valley, people pass through it on their way to Jerusalem. By crossing the river, it also gives access to other places east of the Jordan.

Jericho is called the “City of Palms” because within it is a beautiful palm forest and many of the balsam exported around the world are grown there. The Romans exported the dates and balsam for trade and fame. It also has gardens of roses. Think of a well-scented room of balsam and roses spread far and wide! Josephus, the famous historian, calls it “The Divine Region” and the “fattest in Palestine.”

Because of this, Jericho has become one of the greatest taxation centers of Palestine. And thus makes Zacchaeus one of the wealthiest tax-collectors.

But, as we all know, money cannot buy happiness. Zacchaeus, despite his wealth, is lonely. As a tax collector, he is pro-government. In his time, Rome ruled Palestine. And so he is regarded by many Jews as a traitor and thus, an outcast. He also has cheated many people, as many tax collectors do, and so many people do not like him.

However, Zacchaeus is determined. His height never deters him from seeking what he is looking for or curious about. It is this determination that salvation has come to his life.

When he heard about Jesus, he does not think about his status. He climbs a sycamore or a mulberry-fig tree that grows on the wayside. Its trunk is short and sturdy; its lateral branches spreads in all direction. Thus it is a good tree for wayside shade, like our acacias that gives relief to many travelers. So Zacchaeus, because of his courage, climbs the tree to get a view of the famous Teacher.

When we are desperate, we would do all sorts of things to quell the emptiness. Desperate people muster a lot of courage and nothing will stop them from seeking what is lacking. Often, we find what we are looking for because of this determination.

Second, little acts of kindness and affirmation change lives, no matter how small. Jesus sees Zacchaeus and invites himself to his house! Who has the gall to tell someone, “Today I must stay at your house” but Jesus? But it is perfect for Zacchaeus! He knows that by inviting Himself, He is showing Zacchaeus that He is at home with him, no matter what people say. A great way to offer friendship.

In addition, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name! When someone ‘famous’ acknowledges you by name, it means that he personally knows you. And we all feel good and important! But in a good way. Don’t we feel this when someone famous adds you as a friend in Facebook or comments on your tweet?

And so conversion happens because of small acts of kindness. Zacchaeus finds his happiness which is worth more than his wealth. He shows this to the community by making a decision. A half of his goods to the poor, and ½ to make restitution for the frauds he has committed. His restitution went far beyond what was legally necessary.

What was legally necessary is this:

a. Robbery with a deliberate and violent act: 4x the amount.
b. Robbery and the original goods were not restorable: 2x the amount.
Robbery with voluntary confession, voluntary restitution: value of the original goods were repaid, plus 1/5.

We pray that those who have bled our country, through systemic corruption, will do what Zacchaeus did.

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