Longer readings from scripture sometime reveal connections we don’t see in the shorter reading we usually read at Mass. This reading about Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem from the Gospel of Luke is a reading that summarizes his whole ministry. We’re reading it on our first night of the mission.
Following Mark and Matthew, Luke says that Jesus on his way to Jerusalem passed through Jericho and from there took the road up to the Holy City about 20 miles away. Entering Jericho he met a blind man asking him to cure his blindness. Jesus called him over and gave him back his sight, and the blind man followed him.
Then, Luke adds a story not mentioned by Mark and Matthew. The city’s chief tax-collector, Zachaeus, wants to see Jesus, but because he’s a short man, he has to climb a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of him. Calling him down, Jesus not only speaks with him but asks to stay in his house.
He’s criticized for doing that, but Jesus came to save what was lost, and so he saves the blind man who’s told to keep quiet and get out of the way and the chief tax-collector whom no one likes.
Their meeting ends as Zachaeus stands and says to Jesus, “ 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 son of Abraham.” Luke 19 8-9.
The two stories are a summary of Jesus’ activity in Galilee where he cured and reconciled so many. Luke’s gospel has been called the Gospel of the Outcasts because Jesus reaches out to so many of them. He brings salvation. As the name implies, outcasts can be hard to take, but Jesus embraced them in his lifetime and the gospel suggests he embraces them still.
If you think you are an outcast, then you can join this group.
Jesus doesn’t take control of the lives of the blind man or the tax-collector either. He doesn’t ask for anything from the wealthy chief-tax collector except a day’s hospitality. He doesn’t tell him to quit his job and get another one. He usually told those he healed, like the bind man, to go back to their families and do what they did before. Only a few, like his twelve disciples, did he call to follow him.
He came to serve and not to be served. He called for his disciples and his church to serve and not to control. ‘The church opens herself to the world not in order to win people for an institution with its own claims to power, but to lead them to themselves of whom each person can say with Saint Augustine, ‘He is closer to me than I am to myself.’ (Confessions III, 6, II) Benedict XVI, ( To German Lay Catholics, September 2010)” A serving, non-controlling church is like Jesus.
Jesus did tell everyone to prepare for the kingdom of God, to use the talents and graces given them, not to bury them. Pray and faithfully do God’s will. Signs will appear, look for them and follow them. Those who follow him were to take up their cross, but he would help them. One thing he called them all to do was to “Become like little children;” you can’t get into the kingdom of heaven unless you do that.
The NABRE Bible gives this overall description of the Gospel of Luke: “Throughout the gospel, Luke calls upon the Christian disciple to identify with the master Jesus who is caring and tender towards the poor and the lowly, the outcast, the sinner, and the afflicted, towards all those who recognize their dependence on God… No gospel writer is more concerned than Luke with the mercy and compassion of Jesus…No gospel writer is more concerned with the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus and the Christian disciple… with the importance of prayer… or with Jesus’ concern for women.”
The blind man is obviously poor and Jesus reaches out to him with tender care. Zachaeus isn’t poor, but he’s an outcast. In the next section of his gospel, Luke places the parable of the talents. You wonder if Zachaeus may be one of those given ten talents, which he multiplies by generous charity to the poor. You also wonder if he might be on the way to becoming like a child, as Jesus taught. Anyone climbing a tree like he did has something of a child in him.
I like this picture of Zachaeus by J. Tissot. In Jericho last year I took a picture of the sycamore tree they feature now in the town square. Imagine Zachaeus up on that tree.