BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong.


1. One Dollar Bills. The House of Representative candidates have lined up for the 2022 midterm elections and November 8 is almost here. One pastor of a church was asked by a House candidate: “Name one thing that I can get the House of Representatives to do, to help your church if I am elected a Congresswoman.” The pastor replied, “Quit making one-dollar bills.” Well, even the central character of today’s Gospel reading (Lk 19:1-10), was someone in charge of collecting money, for the government and for himself, though.

2. Oxymoron. In Church, we donate freely. But with taxes, it is pay as you earn. During our Lord’s earthly life, the Jews had to pay Temple tax and Roman tax. We have evidence that our Lord and Peter paid the Temple tax (Mt 17:24-27). Although the official rate for the Roman tax was 1% of income, there were other taxes: customs taxes, crop taxes, special taxes when there was a war, etc. Worse still, the Romans used local people to collect the taxes and did not pay them. The local tax collectors made their living through extorting more money from people above the legal charges. No wonder these local tax collectors were particularly hated by their own people and recognized publicly as traitors and sinners. Even our Lord alluded to the notoriety of tax collectors when, in His teaching about an unrepentant sinner, He said: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). Imagine then being a Chief Tax Collector like Zacchaeus as we heard in today’s Gospel Reading (Lk 19:1-10). In addition to the social status of being considered corrupt, unpatriotic and greedy, Zacchaeus had to deal with a physical stature that was below average. Even his name, made him a sort of a joke: the Hebrew root of his name, ,זכי means “pure”, “innocent”. An innocent tax collector was an oxymoron! So what did Zacchaeus do? Well, this was long before Theodore Roosevelt made popular the saying: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That is what Zacchaeus did. He was youthful enough to climb a tree, to overcome the limits imposed by his short stature. Notice that Zacchaeus had to do more than the rest of the crowd to be able to see Jesus. Zacchaeus did not allow his challenges to become excuses. That immediately inspires you and me. His extra effort was rewarded for our Lord said: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” The crowd did not like that: “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

3. Beyond Repentance. Zacchaeus understood their accusation and immediately went from repentance to reparation, restitution and charity: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” Yes, Zacchaeus went beyond repentance. Yes, I repeat, he went from repentance, to reparation, restitution and charity. No wonder our Lord made the announcement: “Today salvation has come to this house…” Of course, it began with God’s love in Christ, seeking what was lost. The crowd would not have grumbled if they understood the Divine attributes that we heard in today’s 1st reading (Wis 11:22-12:2): “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things”. God is omni-clement because God is omnipotent. And the 2nd reading (2 Thes 1:11-2:2) reminds us to cooperate with God’s plan of salvation including praying that those called by God, may respond and become worthy of their calling. The response of Zacchaeus is worth emulating: namely, going beyond repentance, to reparation, restitution and charity.

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