I have had a question about Zacchaeus for some time. In preparation for this weekend’s homily, I happened to come across an answer. Perhaps the answer will be obvious to you, or it just never concerned you. The Gospel at Mass today:
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“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 descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
I always presumed that Zacchaeus’ wealth stemmed from his role as a crooked tax collector. If that was true, then it would be pretty hard for him to give half of his wealth to the poor as well as repaying four times those he wronged–if not impossible. Also, I refused to believe that Zacchaeus was merely speaking in hyperbole with little intention of parting with much of his possessions. Admittedly, this question has not been of great concern to me. When it would crop up in my mind, I would usually just say, “that’s curious” and move on.
Lately, I have been reading through St Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on the Gospel of Luke. In the Catena Aurea, St Thomas compiles many of the comments of the Church Fathers on the particular passages of the Gospel. Below is a quote from a Church Father to whom the tradition refers to as Pseudo-Chrysostom.
Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any man, I restore him fourfold. Behold here is a marvel: without learning he obeys. And as the sun pouring its rays into a house enlightens it not by word, but by work, so the Savior by the rays of righteousness put to flight the darkness of sin; for the light shines in darkness. Now every thing united is strong, but divided, weak, therefore Zacchaeus divides into two parts his substance. But we must be careful to observe, that his wealth was not made up from unjust gains, but from his patrimony, else how could he restore fourfold what he had unjustly extorted.
That is a pretty obvious answer that never occurred to me.
I think the “take away” from this is that encounters with Our Blessed Lord make us want to give up the proceeds of a sinful life. If one had stolen goods, then he needs to make restitution for them. If one has an attachment to anything sinful, then he has to give it up as a condition to receiving the joy which Christ gives. Think of how happy and free Zacchaeus must have been when, at the Lord’s beckoning, he gave up his continued attachment to sin!