Both the first Mass reading from the book of Wisdom and the Gospel story of Zacchaeus proclaim God’s incredible and unconditional love for us. In Wisdom we hear these beautiful words:
For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for you imperishable spirit is in all things!
We get to see an example of that love in action in today’s Gospel, which dispels the misconception people sometimes have that they need to reform themselves so that God will love them. The story of Zacchaeus reminds us of the important truth that God loves us first and always and that we need do nothing to earn God’s love.
Zacchaeus is tax collector and a thief. He is someone everyone would have looked down upon. Everyone, that is, except Jesus. Jesus spies Zacchaeus up in the tree and calls to him, telling him that he plans to come over for lunch. Jesus effectively says: it doesn’t matter to me that you are a tax collector and that you are unpopular. I still want to be with you. I want to be your friend. And Jesus’ joyful greeting of Zacchaeus causes Zacchaeus to renounce his ways, to promise to give half of his possessions to the poor and make recompense to all he has cheated.
God loved Zacchaeus first, and that allowed him to respond back in love. And when Jesus explains Zacchaeus’ salvation at the end of the passage, he makes clear that Zacchaeus is not saved because he gave things back and made amends; he is saved because of who he is – a descendent of Abraham, which means a child of God. As are we all.