Today in the gospel we hear about the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. I find this to be a tremendously heart-warming encounter. Also, I find that it explains so well both the human condition and the mentality of Jesus.
First, we have the person of Zacchaeus. We hear that he is a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. In Luke’s gospel this is two strikes against him. Not only is he a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. This means that he had the reputation of being disreputable, greedy, and even a traitor, working against the people of Israel. This is Luke’s way of saying that he is a sinful person. If this were Star Wars you would hear the Darth Vadar music as Zacchaeus enters the scene. But, what we hear is quite interesting: he was seeking to see who Jesus was. Even though he was a sinner, even though he was a tax collector, even he wanted to see who Jesus was. No matter who we are, no matter what our background, saint or sinner, there is an innate desire for God. Every human being on earth, whether they will acknowledge it or not, desires to know Jesus. The Catechism puts it this way: “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because everyone is created by God and for God… Only in God will the human person find the truth and happiness he/she never stops searching for.” From a worldly point of view, Zacchaeus has it all. Why would he venture forth from his life of wealth and seeming security? He wants to see Jesus.
You get the feeling from the story that Zacchaeus didn’t really have any great conversion story, it just says that he wanted to see who Jesus was, but that simple act had profound consequences: Jesus decide to come stay with him. Through this simple experience of being with Jesus, his whole life is changed: half of his possession to the poor and a promise to make amends for his past sins. By spending this time with Jesus he found something that was more fulfilling than his life of greed and wealth. He found something so beautiful, convincing, and persuasive in the person of Jesus that his life was changed forever. How many of us can say the same thing? Isn’t that why we are here today? We come here to Mass because we want to see Jesus, we have spent time with him, and we find in him the answer to the question at the very heart of the human person: why am I here? We were made by God and we will only find happiness in God.
Here is where it is helpful for us to think about Jesus’ role in the story. We were indeed made by God, for God; but, long ago we lost our way. Our first parents turned away from God, and all of human history is now full of men and women searching for a way to fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. Many have tried various means to find truth and happiness: power, pleasure, wealthy, comfort. While any of these things might be good, they don’t bring us that ultimate satisfaction for which we long. But, God made us for himself, and even after we sin and wander far from him, he loves us all the more. Jesus says today: the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Again the Catechism has a wonderful statement: God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created the human person to make us share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to humanity. Jesus Christ came to earth precisely to find Zacchaeus, to find us, to search for sinners.
The story of the gospel is really a love story. God loved us in our creation, he continued to love us even after sin by sending Jesus, who showed us forever the extent of his love when he handed over his life for us and for our salvation. And now we get to enter into that love and participate in it all again here as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist. Every time we celebrate the Holy Mass the story of Zacchaeus happens all over again, we come here because we want to see Jesus, and Jesus comes in search of us because he came to seek and to save what was lost.