We know that Zacchaeus was well-known in his town. He was probably not liked, for he was a senior tax collector, meaning presumably that he been a tax man for a long time, and more importantly, that he had done exceedingly well at his job.
There is nothing to suggest that he had any intention to meet Jesus, rather, he seemed to want to take a “measure of the man,” this man who people were talking about in the surrounding countryside.
There is nothing to suggest that Zacchaeus had any desire to be “saved” or that he saw himself as a sinner. He was merely sizing up the man whom he had heard of, perhaps wanting to see if there was anything about him that suggested he was any of the things people were whispering about.
Jesus arrives at the tree that Zacchaeus has climbed and looks up. He orders him down. And he tells Zacchaeus that he intends to supper with him. This must have shocked Zacchaeus, since he full knew the opinion of the Pharisees about him. And it was true, they complained, loudly passing the word that Jesus was intent on eating with a sinner! But eye to eye with Jesus, something happened.
This man, who must have been hard-hearted in order to do his job, had a transformation. He immediately told Jesus he would give half of his wealth to the poor, and return four times over any money he had acquired by unfairness. What a transformation indeed.
I recall, as I proceeded through the catechumenate, learning about all the Catholic dogma about social issues, sexual to be exact. Certainly most of these were touched on quite lightly, they were trying to convince us to join the Church not run from it. I was troubled indeed about birth control, celibacy issues, homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. These rules basically went against my natural inclination. None of them touched me personally at that time, and perhaps I could have simply ignored them.
Instead, I tried mightily to understand why my Church taught these things. I struggled with them in my heart. I prayed about them. In the end, I conformed for one singular reason: my conversion had arisen from the sudden conclusion that I was not wise enough to overcome the depth and breath of intellect that, before me, believed. Here now too, I came to the same conclusion. I must assume the Church to be wiser than me–at least until I had spent time looking deeply into these issues.
I trusted in the general logic of Catholicism, the fact that there were no places of which I was aware where there were logical dead ends, or places of deep conflict. All inexorably fit together, and so I accepted what I was taught, albeit with a heavy heart.
Over time, I was to learn a good deal more, read a good deal more, have the benefit of learned teachers who had studied these matters thoroughly and come up with different ideas. Slowly, I came back to where I had been, and came to believe that the Church’s dogma was flawed, and understandable from its own history.
My point is simply, that I think excluding people as “sinners” for violating innumerable sexual prohibitions should lead anyone to feel exceedingly sad. We are, after all, desirous of having everyone partake of the Eucharist I presume. We want all to be saved do we not? To conclude that some folks must be denied is painful. It was to me at that time, and I would think it would be to all faithful orthodox Catholics.
Yet, this is not what I find. Instead, I find that old bugaboo, arrogance come to play. All too many “orthodox” Catholics are eager, almost joyous in their condemnation of those who aren’t being “orthodox” as they see it. They are eager to label people–“you Cafeteria Catholic,” they sneer. They tell me that “Catholicism is hard” and why don’t I “go to some feel-good Protestant church where they cater to what you want to hear”. When I protest that Jesus told us not to judge, they drag out plenty of ammo from Paul, about how they are they are not judging, but “admonishing the sinner” as they are “called to do.”
Some of them are quite ugly in their rhetoric. They clearly take great pride in “doing what is hard,” though I’m not sure what is hard about chastising others for not living up to their interpretation of things.
It all leaves me with a bad taste. Zacchaeus may have climbed a tree to see better, but some of our orthodox brethren are also up trees, just not to see. They are up there to pick out from the crowd those they believe must be culled from the congregation. They are there to spot the sinners and whisper loudly and complain–“these people have no right to be in God’s house!”
Perhaps, they will hear Jesus calling for them to come down, and eye to eye, they too might be transformed, as I ultimately was. Perhaps they will see that following Jesus was never about pointing out the sinner, so much as it was and is about ministering without judgment to all God’s creation. For we also learned today:
Yes, you love everything that exists, and nothing that has been made disgusts you, since if you had hated something, you would not have made it. And how could a thing subsist, had you not willed it? Or how be preserved, if not called forth by you? No, you spare all, since all is yours, Lord, lover of life! (Wis 11:24-26)
Perhaps, we might leave all this other stuff up to God to decide. After all, it’s His kingdom.