Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Many consider the book Les Miserables as one of the top ten books of all time. I loved the music and many years ago read the book. Jean Valjean is released from serving nineteen years in jail. Five years for stealing some bread for his starving sister and fourteen more years because of his numerous attempts to escape. His identification card says he was in jail and no one will give him a place to stay until he comes up the local bishop who puts him up for the night.
Jean sees the nice things in the bishop’s house and steals the silverware and runs. He is caught and brought back to the bishop’s house who says to the policemen that the silverware was his gift to Jean, and he also forgot to take the two silver candle holders. The police release Jean and the bishop says: “Use this money to change your life,” and he does. He changes his name, becomes a very successful business man and mayor of a city. This act of love for Jean changed his heart. Something similar happened to Zacchaeus.
It seems that Zacchaeus went to see Jesus only out of curiosity. He was not only a tax collector but one of the chief tax collectors which meant he was extremely rich. He was short, and probably fat. And in order to see Jesus he did something that kids do: he climbed a tree; he took a risk. The fruit of the sycamore tree is called “silly fruit.” Zacchaeus did something very silly. To see Christ we need to do something silly, like forgive and be forgiven.
The best part of my mom’s disease is her simplicity. She can be very happy just listening to old songs. Her mood changes when someone visits even if she does not know them. She has no judgments of her daughter-in-laws, for an Italian mom this is a miracle. She is like a little kid again.
This childlike spirit helped Zacchaeus to be open to Christ. This encounter with Christ, and the mercy that Jesus showed him, made it possible for Zacchaeus to see his violence, his greed, his sins, the harm that he had done to his countrymen. The first reading says that God overlooks people’s sin so that they can repent. So shouldn’t we do the same, shouldn’t we overlook the sins of others so they can feel mercy and repent?
Zacchaeus thought he was looking for Christ but it was Christ who found him. And Zacchaeus made a huge conversion; he gave away all he had. Just prior to this gospel there is the young rich man who wants to follow Christ but he cannot sell his goods, and he goes away empty and sad, not Zacchaeus.
Jesus is coming through Jericho and first he sees this blind man who screams and calls out to him over and over. This blind man prays. And then he sees Zacchaeus. He sees two men who were outcasts in the Jewish way of thinking. He cures both of them, one of their blindness and the other of their greed. The Lord has mercy with both. Will he not do the same with us?
Zacchaeus has to stand on top of his sins to see Christ. We need to do the same. For sure the Pharisees heard of this conversion and yet they didn’t accept Christ; they did not convert. Only two that we know about converted: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea. Let’s not fall into the same trap. We see many changes of hearts, many moral miracles so we ought to not have a harden heart. God invites himself also into your house despite all we have done against him.
Mary’s fiat, her ‘let it be done,’ her yes, was always a generous yes. The rest of us hesitate perpetually between yes and no. Let us not be afraid to ask Mary to make our yes be a generous and constant yes, like hers, so Christ can be born in us.