The Dynamic of Reconciliation
The story about the small tax collector named Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was passing through Jericho, is the focus of our reflection this weekend. As with all stories in which Jesus personally encounters an individual, the slightest details make a huge difference.
The Scripture describes the prelude to the encounter in this way: “Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.”
From the description we know Zacchaeus was an outsider. He was despised by his people because he did whatever it took to collect taxes for the Roman overlords. He was seen as a traitor to his people and an obvious sinner. Compounding the people’s ire, was his wealth, probably gained by overcharging and pocketing the excess for himself.
For all practical purposes, Zacchaeus was seen as a despicable man. So, when it came time to see Jesus, no one was willing to give him a front row seat. His lack of height moved him to do the only thing he could do to see Jesus; he climbed a nearby sycamore tree. Noticing Zacchaeus, Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
The dynamic of reconciliation has now begun. Something inside Zacchaeus motivated him enough to go through the effort of seeing Jesus. Zacchaeus was moved to such a length because something was just not right with him. All of humanity are sinners and there is just something not right in our lives when we are estranged from God and our neighbor. It can be likened to a cold. When we have the rhinovirus, we are not 100%. By having a cold doesn’t keep us from daily tasks. We still can go to school or work and do other things even though our sinuses are filed with gunk and our throat might be a bit scratchy, but we soldier on.
Sin has the same effect, not physically but spiritually. Our stature becomes small and we are ostracized from the community of believers. Sadly, people get used to their smallness and isolation by choosing to live in sin. In the short term, the sinful life can be ignored, denied or rationalized. It doesn’t matter, sin always makes a person less than 100% and the lack of being whole never leaves the person until the sin is excised. This may have well been Zacchaeus’ motivation in seeing Jesus. He knew he was not 100% and was sick and tired of living that way.
Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus was the medicine he needed. It transformed him immediately and he was moved to change his life. He said to Jesus, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Zacchaeus confessed to his sins to Jesus (by stating he was committed to make those he cheated whole) and promised to amend his life from that point on. Zacchaeus is now half way to become whole again by working with the initial grace from Jesus who offered his grace when he first acknowledged him in the sycamore tree.
Now come the moment of becoming completely whole again and forgiven. Jesus responds to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” The exchange is now complete. Zacchaeus in no longer an outsider, he has been restored 100% by the restoration of his identity as a true son of Abraham, his father in faith.
Will you ever get sick and tired of living less than 100%? Zacchaeus did, and only by following the dynamic of reconciliation can we get there. First, accept the initial grace of God empowering you to be truthful about yourself and then respond to the Lord’s invitation to be whole. Jesus will always forgive you when you confess your sins and then he beckons you to amend your life. When the reconciliation dynamic is complete, you too will be 100%, your identity as a Christian restored, and salvation will have come to your house as well.
If you haven’t thought about going to Confession for some time, maybe now is the chance for you to really think about it and stop living less than you should.