Come down quickly;
I must stay at your house today.
Luke 19: 5
How unlikely a story! Zaccheus, a notorious tax collector, climbs up into a tree to see Jesus and gets invited to have Jesus come to his house.
When we reflected on this at a meeting in Caritas this past week, some said that Zaccheus had a conversion and Jesus saw this.
I begged to disagree.
I think Zaccheus went up into the tree because he was curious.
But Jesus saw something good in this man who was despised. There was something at the core of his being that moved him to do something out of character – climb a tree to see an itinerant preacher.
Jesus saw this speck of goodness within this public sinner. And then Jesus told him that he wanted to stay with him.
That invitation provoked the conversion in Zaccheus.
I think today’s first reading from Wisdom 11:22-21:2 reinforces this interpretation.
you overlook people’s sins
and give them time to repent.
For you love all things that are
and hate nothing that you have made…
There is a goodness at the depth of our beings. One person at the Caritas meeting said that we are sinners by nature. A good Catholic understanding is that at base we are graced but sin has intervened. In the depths of our beings, there is a goodness, since we are made in God’s image. As Wisdom 21:1 puts it:
your imperishable spirit is in all things.
If we knew, as Jesus does, to look for the good at the core of all people, we would begin to make a real difference in our world. We would begin to love our enemies, to give hope to those who feel bowed down, to invite the marginalized to our table and accept the invitation of the sinners to eat with them.
We would begin to live signs of the Reign of God in a fallen world.
Zaccheus welcomes Jesus into his house and changes his life – repenting his unjust actions. But he does this because Jesus saw the good within and wanted to sit down at table with this sinner.
Can we do less?