Ordinary Time 31, Year C-2010

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me (Ps. 131:2—NAB)

The story of Zacchaeus is told with humor, according to John L. McKenzie [1].

As though oblivious of his being a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree, like a child, so badly did he want to see who Jesus was. Like a child also, Zacchaeus was told to come down, and yes, right away. And right away he came down, sheepishly as a child perhaps, but definitely with childlike joy and pleasant surprise that he was being honored by no less than the person he strongly desired to see. Then overflowing with joy, he spontaneously and lightheartedly decided right there and then to give half of his marbles, so to speak, to those deprived of them and to repay four times over those he had cheated.

But there is not just humor in the case of Zacchaeus. It also makes, I believe, a good children’s story.

Curious children would have no difficulty connecting with his eagerness to see someone everybody was apparently getting excited about. They might find it amusing that a wealthy chief tax collector was too short to see over the crowd, and they might even begin to wonder whether power and money, as they might have heard not infrequently, could buy anything or remedy every predicament. Children could find it hilarious, too, that Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a short tree “with a squatty trunk and wide branches” [2]. But it would not surprise them, nor would they consider it undignified of him to have done so, because they would have done the same thing if they were him.

And like Zacchaeus, children would not be deterred by any predicament and would, therefore, cheer that his predicament turned into an advantage. As they delight in the ultimate triumph of an underdog like Cinderella, children would find delight in salvation coming to the chief tax collector, in his being sought, found and saved by Jesus. For, indeed, Zacchaeus was an underdog. His salvation was deemed doubly jeopardized: first, because he was a tax collector and hence stereotyped as a public sinner by observant Jews; second, because he was a wealthy person, and Jesus’ own teaching was that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Lk. 18:25). And for children, what could really be more surprising and especially delightful than Zacchaeus doing something that was harder than the feat of a camel getting through the eye of a needle? I don’t doubt it that children find appealing the story of Zacchaeus. It strikes a resonant chord with them.

The resonance in children of such a story of unexpected salvation accounts partly, I think, for the solemn and unequivocal declaration, “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Lk. 18:17). Dependent on their parents, children are able to grasp, quite naturally perhaps, and can more readily catch the teaching that there is no entering the kingdom of God without trust of God and reliance on him [3].

Since they themselves, even when reprimanded of their misdeeds, run into their parents’ arms for loving assurance, understanding and forgiveness, children will see nothing unusual in Zacchaeus quickly approaching Jesus and letting the righteous one stay in his house, the house of a sinner. Their experience of their parents overlooking their mistakes and failures disposes them to be receptive to the words of wisdom, in the first reading, to the effect that the Lord, secure that he is in his power, overlooks people’s sins that they may repent. Children, it seems to me then, are incapable of passing such judgment as, “He has gone to stay in the house of a sinner.”

Moreover, children know that their parents’ love are empowering. Hence, they can more easily understand that God’s grace is powerful and he can “powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith,” to quote from the second reading.

Yes, grace—as exemplified by Zacchaeus, surely, but also by St. Vincent de Paul—can bring about radical change in people and in their priorities, thus making possible what is impossible for human beings. Grace frees those who are enslaved by unrighteous mammon, so that, instead of working for money, they make money work for them, as they use it not just for themselves, selfishly, but also for others, gaining thus friends for themselves and entrance, too, into eternal dwellings (Lk. 16:9).

For the story of Zacchaeus, therefore, we thank the Lord, especially as we eat his bread and drink his cup, proclaiming his death until he comes in order to lead us into eternal dwellings. With him, we give praise to the Father, Lord of heaven, because it has been his gracious will to reveal to the childlike things he has hidden from the wise and the learned (Lk. 10:21).


Notes:

[1] Cf. “Zacchaeus,” Dictionary of the Bible (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1965) 946.
[2] Cf. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Messiah-Turns-Toward-Jerusalem (accessed October 30, 2010).
[3] Cf. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Humility-Trusting-All-Father (accessed October 30, 2010).