UpFront with Mary Hendricks, 10/30/2016

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

October 30, 2016

Luke 19:1-10


How do you feel about the IRS? According to the Pew Research Center, 48-percent of Americans do not have a favorable view of the Internal (Infernal?) Revenue Service.

The IRS and I are tight. They just love me. They send me letters all the time, some of which I don’t open for weeks, just so I can savor the moment. I don’t owe them enough money for them to buy my soul, but it’s enough to purchase a loaded Cadillac SUV. Yeah. We’re pretty tight, me and the IRS.

So, I’m one of the 48-percent. I don’t hate the IRS, but my view isn’t favorable. This helps me understand how the people of Jericho viewed Zacchaeus, the short guy with a big tax stick from today’s Gospel.

The townspeople hated him, calling him a “sinner.” He must have earned that reputation by cheating his countrymen when it came to collecting taxes for the occupying Roman government.

I have this theory about Zacchaeus. By “theory,” I mean that I’m making this up. I think he had Short Man Syndrome. A person with this syndrome has a feeling of inadequacy which can come from a lack of height, real or imagined. You may have heard it called “Napoleon Complex.” I think being a tax collector gave Zacchaeus confidence because his work status compensated for being vertically challenged. Maybe he was getting back at his fellow citizens because they were mean to him.

Whatever the case, even Jesus knew who he was while Zacchaeus was up in the sycamore tree. You’ve seen sycamore trees over in the old State Hospital lawn. They’re huge! They grow up to 100 feet. But Jesus spotted him and called him down. “Hey, Zacchaeus! I must stay at your house today!”

Another theory. Zacchaeus never expected that this important man, this prophet and healer, would ever want to meet him. He scrambles down quickly to meet the Savior. He’s so excited! The Gospel says, “(Zacchaeus) received him with joy.”

When Jesus greets other sinners, he says things like, “You are forgiven,” or “Sin no more.” He doesn’t have to do that for Zacchaeus who immediately owns up to his shortcomings (excuse the pun).

“I’m going to give half of my possessions to the poor,” he tells Jesus. “If I have cheated anyone, I’ll quadruple the repayment.” Wow. Zacchaeus just guaranteed that he was bankrupting himself. He put himself out of business. And why was he repaying four times what he owed? Because that was the Jewish law. No matter what he had been or done in the past, Zacchaeus still knew the law.

And Jesus grants him salvation. He calls Zacchaeus a descendant of the patriarch Abraham, no less than any other man in Jericho, because of his instant and complete conversion.

What this story tells us is that no one is beyond redemption. No one is beyond the possibility of conversion. There is no past deed, no abhorrent behavior, no seedy way of life that cannot be turned around.

There is only one requirement: repentance. Sorrow for the sin. Zacchaeus was sorry and backed up his words by doing an extreme penance, one that would have him looking for a new job. He had the courage to make big changes in his life, and he must have felt that Jesus was worth it.

Last theory: Zacchaeus may have been short, but he turned out to be a big man.


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