Our Lord is a lover of souls, the liturgy shows us. As we sing in Sunday’s psalm, he is slow to anger and compassionate towards all that he has made.
In his mercy, our first reading tells us, he overlooks our sins and ignorance, giving us space that we might repent and not perish in our sinfulness (see Wisdom 12:10; 2 Peter 3:9).
In Jesus, he has become the savior of his children, coming himself to save the lost (see Isaiah 63:8-9; Ezekiel 34:16).
In the figure of Zacchaeus in the Gospel, we have a portrait of a lost soul. He is a tax collector, by profession a “sinner” excluded from Israel’s religious life. Not only that, he is a “chief tax collector.” Worse still, he is a rich man who has apparently gained his living by fraud.
But Zacchaeus’ faith brings salvation to his house. He expresses his faith in his fervent desire to “see” Jesus, even humbling himself to climb a tree just to watch him pass by. While those of loftier religious stature react to Jesus with grumbling, Zacchaeus receives him with joy.
Zacchaeus is not like the other rich men Jesus meets or tells stories about (see Luke 12:16-21; 16:19-31; 18:18-25). He repents, vowing to pay restitution to those he has cheated and to give half of his money to the poor.
By his humility he is exalted, made worthy to welcome the Lord into his house. By his faith, he is justified, made a descendant of Abraham (see Romans 4:16-17).
Jesus is again using a tax collector to show us the faith and humility we need to obtain salvation.
We are also called to seek Jesus daily with repentant hearts. And we should make our own Paul’s prayer in the epistle: that God might make us worthy of his calling, that by our lives we might give glory to the name of Jesus.
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.