STORY An illustration based on the biblical tale of Jesus and Zaccheus.
Fr Kevin Hegarty
IN November there is the deadline for the submission of tax returns. So it it appropriate that Zaccheus is a central character in one of the Sunday gospels. He was a tax collector, then as now not a popular profession. Tax collectors in Palestine in Jesus’s time were especially reveiled. They were seen as agents of an alien empire as they extracted money for the Roman authorities. They were regarded with the contempt that the Catholic Community in Ireland had for title collectors in pre-famine times. Furthermore, many of them had become wealthy by engaging in corrupt activities.
The story in Luke’s Gospel tells us how Jesus met Zaccheus. Jesus had arrived in Jericho. As was usual during his travels he was greeted by a large crowd. He was then the hottest news story in the country. People were mesmerised by his words and actions. They were excited by his presence. He offered them hope and meaning in the quiet desperation of their days. Among the crowd, surprisingly, was Zaccheus. Something in him compelled him to be there, rather than at home fumbling in a greasy till. At the start he could not see Jesus. He was too small. One gets the impression he was somewhat pompous in his bearing, as is the way with some small men. One can also imagine the crowd looking at him in disdain, wondering what he was doing there.
They knew him and despised his profession. Zaccheus was so anxious to see Jesus that he ran ahead and climbed a Sycamore tree to get a better view. Jesus greeted him and suggested that he visit his home later in the day. The crowd were astonished and disturbed that he should choose to be entertained by one regarded as a swindler. Zaccheus is overjoyed and promises to atone for his greed by giving half his wealth to the poor.
It is a fascinating encounter. Jesus treats Zaccheus with grace and dignity. In this way he unleashed the innate goodness in the despised man. If he had ignored him or derided him, as the crowd wished, nothing would have changed.
Reflecting on the Zaccheus story led me to think how destructive the human tendency to judge others can be. We have all known the eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, to echo some words of the poet, TS Eliot - sometimes we are those eyes. We often limit others by our attitude to them.
A fable comes to mind, it is about a farmer and a pumpkin. Early in the growing season the farmer examines a field of pumpkins which are just starting to develop. He picks up a glass jug which someone has thrown into the field. On a whim and as an experiment he puts a small pumpkin through the neck of the jug. Later in the year when the field was ready to be harvested, he looked to see what had happened. All the other pumpkins on the vine were now the usual large size but the one in the jug had only grown to fill its glass prison. It has been limited by its surroundings. There is something there for us to ponder.