Read: Luke 15:1-7; Luke 19:1-10
Consider: When reading the passage from Luke 15 you can almost feel the excitement and anticipation of the crowd as they gathered round to hear what Jesus had to say. There are two groups of people represented in this crowd, ‘sinful people’ – the tax collectors and sinners, and the ‘righteous’ – the Pharisees and teachers of the law. There are also two very different reactions to Jesus – the tax collectors and sinners were ‘gathering round to hear Jesus’ (15:1), while the Pharisees and the teachers of the law ‘muttered’ (15:2).
The Greek word used here for ‘muttered’ is διαγογγύζω. This implies grumbling and indignant complaining. You can almost sense the shock felt by the Pharisees and teachers of the law when they saw Jesus mixing with those they considered to be impure. This offended them because they thought that by mixing with these undesirables, they would be polluted by them. Notice their muttering criticised Jesus for ‘welcoming’ and ‘eating’ with sinners.
In today’s second reading we come across the same Greek word being used in Luke 19:7 where we are told: All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’ In this instance it is the crowd that is muttering and indignant that Jesus would mix with a sinner and go to his house. However, notice that the invitation given by Zacchaeus was at Jesus’ instigation. It is unlikely that Zacchaeus would have dared invite Jesus to his home, but to break down the social barriers it is Jesus who instigates it when he says: Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house. Jesus could probably have chosen to stay with any of the ‘respectable’ people in Jericho, but instead he chose to stay with someone whom society considered to be an outcast. This should cause us to question why this should be so?
Jesus himself answers this question for us in Luke 19:9-10 where he says: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’.
A similar incident where Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him is recorded in Luke 5:27-32. This involved Levi (Matthew) and when the Pharisees and teachers or the law complained about Jesus eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, he said: ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:31-32).
If I was to ask you who you think might be unworthy of Jesus’ salvation, you would probably say that salvation is open to everyone. But let’s probe a little further. Do you have any prejudices lurking under the surface? What about the beggars on the street? What about the drug suppliers and dealers? What about career criminals? What about those involved in human trafficking, or those who have been trafficked? If we are honest, we all have a view that there are some people who are either undeserving of salvation, or who are beyond salvation. Today’s readings clearly show us that Jesus saw no-one as beyond his salvation.
Pray: Father, forgive us when we see certain people as beyond your salvation, or undeserving of forgiveness. Soften our hearts to see that as sinners we are all in need of repentance and forgiveness. Amen