Today’s Gospel from Luke is one that always touches me – the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus.
Although the Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus is up in a tree because he was short and could not otherwise see Jesus, I always see his presence in that tree as a sign of his separation from others. A wealthy tax collector who amassed his wealth by cheating others, he was doubtless unpopular. I’m guessing he was not someone who was on the guest list of most people’s dinner parties and that most people wanted nothing to do with him. In that sense, he is an outcast.
Yet Jesus comes along and invites himself to Zacchaeus house, essentially saying, “I want to be with you, despite whatever wrongs you may have committed. Let’s break bread together.” And Zacchaeus responds to Jesus by promising to give half of all he has to the poor and to repay all he has cheated.
Jesus welcomes all, offering love without regard to merit. And his doing so often draws out the best in others. His action toward them encourages their conversion.
As we seek to grow in imitating Jesus’ ways, this strikes me as a good place to focus. Do I behave toward others in a way that draws out the best in them? Do I offer the same love and acceptance Jesus does, the very offer of which encourages a conversion of heart?