By Carol Younger
We need mercy today! Especially right here, in the middle of things. And Mercy is packed into these readings. Because Merciful Love is always on the lookout for you, to find you. In Wisdom (11-12), the writer says “…You love all things that are and loathe nothing you have made.” Francis says “the name of God is Mercy.”
Psalm 145 sings this praise: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness; the Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” Jesus came to find us, to give mercy along our way on the journey to Him.
In the Gospel, Jesus comes to Jericho on His journey to Jerusalem and finds Zacchaeus. But just before this, Jesus encounters those who need His mercy just as much as Zacchaeus: the Rich Young Man, the Apostles themselves, and a Blind Beggar by the roadside. The Rich Young Man has lived all the commandments since youth; so Jesus invites him to live mercy itself, trading away his riches for heavenly treasure. But he cannot respond, turns away sad, money being more important than holiness. The Apostles hear Jesus’ prediction of His Passion and Resurrection and cannot comprehend. Scripture says, “the word remained hidden from them” (double entendre intended). The Word who is God has told them of His plans for Mercy at the Cross, and they don’t get it, because “the word” He speaks is incomprehensible. Finally, Apostles and others try to silence the Blind Beggar calling out for the Son of David to have pity. Yet Jesus heals that beggar, and he follows Jesus, glorifying God.
These preludes to Zacchaeus are either physically or spiritually blind to the riches of God’s mercy (at least until He heals the Blind Beggar). Jesus is tired of all this when he comes to Jericho. He “intended to pass through the town.” Here’s yet another rich man, another man who can’t see him because he’s so short in the crowd. But like the Blind Beggar, Zacchaeus really wants to see Jesus.
Can’t you just picture this short man running as fast as his small legs will take him along the way Jesus is walking – getting as far ahead of the crowd as his pudgy little body will allow? Probably those in crowd laughed as he ran; others wondered where he was going, what he thought he was doing. But Zacchaeus is determined. “He was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man.” “Chief tax collector” tells us that his determination had earned him charge over several other collectors, and he raked the excess from several tax tables.
Still, Zacchaeus was “seeking to see who Jesus was…” He wanted to see Jesus. He wanted to see more than the Rich Young Man, more even than the Blind Man or Apostles. Zacchaeus wanted to size Jesus up, see just what Jesus was made of. And Jesus brought God’s mercy to the place where Zacchaeus was – right along the way. Though he “intended to pass through the town,” Jesus found Zacchaeus along the way, and Jesus “must stay” at his house. Zacchaeus knows what that means: Jesus is going to make an interior change in Zacchaeus.
Joy is interior change, and it can’t be purchased with money, it can’t be heard with ears, it can’t be seen with eyes. Zacchaeus’ house will become a home for Jesus, a place He stays. And Zacchaeus changes right there on the spot, something the Rich Young Man could not do. Zacchaeus’ riches mean nothing once he sees who Jesus really is. He gives riches away to the poor and makes amends for his corrupt tax extortion right there along the way, right there in public. Having met the Lord of Mercy, Zacchaeus becomes mercy to those he knows and the poor. Mercy poured out on him along the way of his life, Zacchaeus pours it out on others on their way, right there in the middle of the road!
Mercy is always on the way! Can you see it coming? Are you looking for it? Will you share mercy when Mercy finds you?
About the Author:
Dr. Carol Younger – A Senior Fellow for the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Advisory Board Member for the Great Adventure Bible Studies, author of Listening and Study Guides for biblical and theological presentations through St. Joseph Communications, author of the Retreat Companion for 33 Days to Morning Glory through Marian Press. An accomplished leader in public and private education and a popular adjunct professor at an evangelical Christian university in Southern California. Active in many parish ministries, including RCIA and Catechetical training.