Recall that Jesus dealt a lot with tax collectors. He called Levi, the tax collector to follow him, and dined at his house. St. Matthew was a tax collector who became an Apostle and Evangelist.
St. Luke said,
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus responded to them,
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.
In today’s Gospel we have another tax collector,
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man
Tax collectors in Israel at the time of Jesus were public sinners. Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Romans. That was the way the Romans ruled the peoples they conquered. The left in place kings and governments and bureaucrats to work face to face with the local people while the Roman troops remained in the background. Tax collectors were despised because they were essentially corrupt traitors to their own people. They collected taxes to give to the conquering Romans. They were generally wealthy and corrupt. That was why the Jews, Pharisees and Scribes despised them, and called them “publicans”.
But Jesus sought them out, and prostitutes, another group of public sinners. Jesus ate and dined with them, saying,
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.
What we are also seeing is conversion and repentance. Levi, Matthew and Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, all underwent conversion and repentance. The biggest sinners became faithful to Jesus. In doing so, they also put themselves in danger from the Romans, as they became traitors even to the Romans.
In the case of Zacchaeus, we see his conversion and his repentance by returning half of everything he owned to the poor, and promised to restore anything he had extorted from others, four times over. Then, Christ went to dine in his house.
Conversion is like that. Conversion melts the heart and leads to reconciliation and generosity. In September I visited Medugorje. You can lose a lot of time getting bogged down over the apparitions in Medugorje. But the greatest miracle of Medugorje is the conversions. Hundreds of people arrive each day in Medugorje and experience conversion. And, hundreds of people in Medugorje make their Confessions in Medugorje, in every language on earth. Where there is conversion, there is always confession, repentance and penance. If I hadn’t seen it first hand, I would not have understood. Conversion to Christ is powerful, and leads to a life of penance.
Let’s speak today of ways we can live our faith in conversion and penance. Let’s talk about the Catholic Services Appeal.