Not many days ago, on October 18, we celebrated the feast of Saint Luke. The prayer for that day says that God chose the evangelist to reveal the mystery of his love for the poor. Actually, no gospel writer is more concerned than Luke for the poor and no one shows himself so severe with the rich. Just to give a couple of examples, in the chapters immediately prior to today’s gospel we find the parable of the Dives and Lazarus and the episode of the Rich Young Man; in both cases, it would seem that for the wealthy there is no possibility of salvation: Dives, once dead, goes to hell; the rich young man, when Jesus asks him to renounce all his goods and to follow him, becomes sad because of his reaches. And yet, even the wealthy can be saved. Last Sunday, seized as we were with admiration for the humility of the tax collector as opposed to the pride of the Pharisee, we did not realize that that tax collector was not poor, but rich; and yet he was saved. At the beginning of the gospel we find the call of Levi (or Matthew): he also was a tax collector; and yet Jesus chose him as one of his apostles. Very similar to the call of Levi is the incident narrated in today’s gospel. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Luke points out that he was also a wealthy man. And even Zacchaeus is saved. So, salvation is not only for the poor, but for all. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth reads the passage from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor” (Lk 4:18); but, when he calls Matthew, he adds: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:31-32). And now Jesus says: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus reinterprets his own mission in the light of the parable of the Lost Sheep: Jesus, like the Good Shepherd, leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the desert and goes after the lost one until he finds it.
It is exactly what happens with Zacchaeus. The initiative is taken by Jesus: it is he who turns to him and quite shamelessly invites himself to his house. The only thing required of Zacchaeus is to be open to Jesus, to receive him in his house. Admittedly, even before being called by Jesus, Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was,” and that is why he climbed a sycamore tree. What was that interest? Maybe it was just curiosity; but it was enough for Jesus to approach him. To be sure, if Zacchaeus did not care about Jesus, he would stay at home, and Jesus most probably would not go to bother him.
Once at Zacchaeus’ home, Jesus does not lecture his host. And yet Zacchaeus, of his own accord, decides to give the half of his possessions to the poor and to repay what he has extorted four times over. The presence of Jesus is enough for Zacchaeus to change his life. There is no need of words; he knows that his behavior is wrong; he knows what to do. Maybe he knew it even before meeting Jesus. The encounter with him resolved him to do what until then he had not been able to do.
After Zacchaeus expressed his resolution, Jesus emphasizes: “Today salvation has come to this house.” Jesus is not talking only of the transformation happened in Zacchaeus, but also of the cause of that metamorphosis. Jesus is speaking of himself: he is the salvation entered into that house. Where there is Jesus, there is salvation: it is enough to approach Jesus, to experience salvation. His presence alone is enough for us to feel the need to change our life. He wants to come to our house and stay with us: let us not forbid him! Let us allow him to enter our house; and we also shall experience his salvation.