A young man and his wife moved into their new home. The next morning at breakfast, his wife saw one of their neighbors drying her laundry outside. She commented to her husband, “Hmmm, those clothes are not clean; the lady does not know how to wash. Perhaps, she needs a better laundry soap.” Her husband replied, “Really?” The woman made the same comment every time she saw the neighbor drying her laundry. A month later, she was surprised to see her neighbor drying clean clothes on the line. She said to her husband, “Look, she finally got it right, perhaps someone recently taught her how to wash, or she got a different laundry soap.” Her husband smiled and replied, “The truth is, this morning, I got up one hour earlier than usual, and I cleaned our windows for the first time; that is why you can see how clean her clothes are.” And that is the story of our life! What we see when we look at others depends a lot on the quality of the window through which we look at them.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus makes it clear that his mission is not for the destruction of sinners, but “to seek and to save what was lost.” This point is well illustrated with the story of Zacchaeus. Before Jesus got to Zacchaeus, he first restored the sight of the blind man at the entrance of the city. This prepares us for the importance of sight in our journey through life.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, and because he was short, he had to climb the sycamore tree, when Jesus got to that spot, he looked up, and saw Zacchaeus, and beckoned on him to come down quickly to lead him to his house.
No one from the crowd called Zacchaeus by name. They only saw in him the Tax Collector, the Chief of the Tax Collectors, the Public Sinner. They did not see anything good in him. Interestingly enough, the name Zacchaeus means “Clean” or “Righteous.” Jesus called him by his beautiful name. When he looked at Zacchaeus, Jesus was able to see beyond the sinner to discover one, who sincerely longed for God. Some scholars suggest that he was the tax collector we heard about last Sunday, the one who went to ask for mercy in the Temple at the same time that the Pharisee went to praise himself in the Temple.
The crowd looked at the same Zacchaeus that Jesus looked at; but while the crowd saw only the sinner, Jesus saw the potential Saint. It’s all about the lens. Those in the crowd were wearing dirty eye glasses, so all they saw was dirty.
Today’s gospel passage gives us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and to challenge ourselves. What do we see when we look at people? Through which lens do we look at others? Do we look at others through the lens of Jesus or through the lens of the crowd? Is it not a shame that we describe people more based on their disabilities than their abilities? Do we notice how our attention is more easily captivated by people’s defects? For instance, we tend to use more terms like, “the drunkard,” “the prostitute,” “the homeless,” “the divorcee’’ “the single mom,” “the drug-addict,” and “the ex-convict.” I have even heard parents describe their children in terms of disabilities. They say things like, “my autistic son,” my bipolar daughter,” or they use acronyms like ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). But there is more to these children than such labels. Through the eyes of Jesus, we will be able to focus on the unique ability that is hidden in their disability. And how would you like others to see you? Through the eyes of Jesus or the eyes of the crowd? At the end of today, try a brief examination of conscience and find out how many times you described people based on their abilities versus how many times you described people based on their disabilities.
The story of Zacchaeus ends with a dinner. It is the feast that Jesus wanted, the banquet that comes as a result of the conversion of a sinner. Remember that our goal is to be part of the eternal banquet in heaven. But look well, who are those taking part in the banquet and who is left out? Who is enjoying and who is sad? The upright should have been the ones enjoying the banquet, instead, they are outside complaining and grumbling, and enraged because they do not approve of the type of guests that Jesus has welcomed into the hall. These same “righteous ones” almost deprived the blind man at the entrance of the city of his cure. Inside the banquet hall are the “unclean,” those who are impure, those that Jesus came for, with Zacchaeus the chief of them all. It is also interesting that Jesus did not preach any sermon to Zacchaeus, he did not reprimand him. Zacchaeus converted when he discovered that God loved him although he was impure. On this day, Dearly Beloved in Christ, I pray for you as I pray for myself, that God may open our eyes so that when we look, we may see not with the eyes of the crowd, but with the eyes of Jesus, to see the good in the bad, so that after our sojourn here on earth, we may share in the heavenly, and eternal banquet, through Christ our Lord. Amen.