Zacchaeus, I Must Stay In Your House
The first book of the Maccabees is historical and gives us the story of the struggle of the faithful Jews to preserve their religion and culture. The second book of the Maccabees is a more edifying book that gives us inspiring examples of the people’s struggles and faithfulness, like old Eleazar’s martyrdom, for the sake of observing the Law.
Today, we meet Zacchaeus, the rich typical sinner as a tax collector, who is small and loathed as a person. He runs to encounter Jesus and is converted through this encounter, but it is really Jesus who takes the initiative by calling Zacchaeus out of the tree and asking whether he can stay in his house. This is the solution for the sinner, cold or lukewarm: accept to encounter the Lord again. This message is spoken to us too. Deciding to ‘climb the tree’ to encountering Jesus will change us too.
1 Reading: 2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man of advanced age and noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he spat out the meat, and went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, as people ought to do who have the courage to reject the food which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life. Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately, because of their long acquaintance with him, and urged him to bring meat of his own providing, such as he could legitimately eat, and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king; in this way he would escape the death penalty, and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him. But Eleazar made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood; and so he declared that above all he would be loyal to the holy laws given by God. He told them to send him at once to the abode of the dead, explaining: “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring shame and dishonour on my old age. Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” Eleazar spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned and said: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of courage and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.
Responsorial Psalm: PS 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
R. (6b) The Lord upholds me.
O LORD, how many are my adversaries!
Many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” R.
But you, O LORD, are my shield;
my glory, you lift up my head!
When I call out to the LORD,
he answers me from his holy mountain. R.
When I lie down in sleep,
I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I fear not the myriads of people
arrayed against me on every side. R.
Alleluia: 1 John 4:10b
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God loved us, and sent his Son
as expiation for our sins.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10
At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. 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, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
God’s will or human respect? Both readings today speak of the primacy of God’s will over the reaction of human beings. The wealthy Jewish tax collector Zacchaeus was anxious to see Jesus and so scurried up a sycamore tree. A Christian writer once remarked that there is no indication in the Gospels that Jesus ever laughed, but he probably did when he saw Zacchaeus up the tree. Zacchaeus cared little about people’s reaction and even hosted Christ at his home. And that day salvation came to his house.
Eleazar, an aging scribe, is set forth as an example of religious integrity in the first reading. His contemporaries were being forced to eat pork, in violation of Jewish practice. Friends of long standing urge him to bring his own meat; the onlookers would think he was eating pork. This then would save his life. Eleazar refuses to bend to such a ruse. Religious integrity meant more to him. He then refused to eat the meat and went to his death with a clear conscience.
It often happens that we bow to human respect rather than the demands of conscience. A person holding a very responsible position was once asked to pad his expense account to cover over illicit expenses incurred by other executives. He refused and was subsequently dropped as an employee. The decision was painful, but conscience triumphed over expediency. It is tempting to put principle aside and bow to pressure. It is in such moments of truth that we learn where our principles really are.
May we hear from the Lord too: salvation has come to this house, to this person, this community. May Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!