by Father Mike Stubbs
In “Moby Dick,” Captain Ahab chases after the great white whale across the seven seas.
That pursuit makes up the core of that long novel as we travel around the globe. But at the end, the whale turns on Captain Ahab and destroys him and his ship. The hunter becomes the prey.
In a sense, we see a similar ironic twist in Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 19: 1-10. The story begins with a man named Zacchaeus, who is “seeking to see who Jesus was.” To get a better view, Zacchaeus climbs up a sycamore tree. But not only does Zacchaeus see Jesus, Jesus also spies Zacchaeus perched in the tree.
The story concludes with Jesus declaring that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” In other words, Zacchaeus thought that he was seeking Jesus. The whole time, though, Jesus was seeking him.
These words about the Son of Man seeking the lost recalls the parable we heard as the Sunday Gospel reading on Sept. 16. That parable told the story of the man taking care of 100 sheep. When he loses one, he leaves the other 99 behind and searches for the lost one, until he finds it. In a similar way, God seeks us, and rejoices when we are found.
The other two parables in that Gospel reading also share in this theme of finding the lost.
When the prodigal son returns, his father exclaims, “He was lost and has been found.”
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. During his visit, Jesus announces that salvation has come to that house. The purpose of Jesus’ search looks very different from that of Captain Ahab’s. While Captain Ahab wishes to kill the whale, Jesus wishes to bring Zacchaeus life. His gift of salvation will assure Zacchaeus of an eternal home in heaven.
Once again, the Gospel story presents us with a paradox. Things are the opposite of what they seem.
That perhaps is the basic point of the Gospel story. On the surface, Zacchaeus would look like a notorious sinner because he is a tax collector. That is the opinion of the crowd who observe Jesus’ visit: “When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.’”
But the story reveals the contrary to be true. Salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. Even though he is a wealthy tax collector, Zacchaeus is generous to the poor, as he points out to Jesus: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor.”
Zacchaeus turns out to be a model for all those who seek Jesus. Our generosity to the poor serves as a test of our faithfulness to Christ.
The story of Zacchaeus also tells us to expect surprises in our encounter with Christ, like those Zacchaeus discovered. Things will not be as they appear. A difficult time may turn out to be a moment of grace.
Father Stubbs is the pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Lansing.