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Scrutinised by people admired by God

Zacheus had everything in life and yet is deeply dissatisfied. He has participated in many banquets and is still looking for food that satisfies.

The need he experiences is so compelling, so irresistible that to satisfy it he is willing to challenge the taunts of the crowd that did not sympathise with him.

He wants to see Jesus because he thinks maybe he is the only one able to understand his anxieties and inner drama, and he shinies up the sycamore tree to see Jesus, as he cannot see over the crowd, which does not understand that it is the outcasts that Jesus is looking for.

The reason for this attitude is a defect in sight of the apparently pure. Even those who follow Jesus can see only the impure publican, the sinner, the loan shark, in Zachaeus. They reject him, but not being able to physically eliminate him, they isolate and despise him. 

The sight of these pure people is so aggravating that it begins to see evil everywhere, even where there isn’t: even in Jesus. They also criticise and condemn him because they think he becomes unclean by staying at a sinner’s home (v.7). 

Let us now consider how clean and pure the eyes of Jesus are. When he arrives at the scene, he looks up and says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (v.5). 

No one in the crowd has proclaimed this name because Zacchaeus is unclean. Only Jesus calls Zacchaeus (pure). For him he is pure and he is also a son of Abraham (v.9).

In Jericho, Jesus is in the midst of the righteous who follow him, listen to his word and applaud him. Yet, instinctively, as soon as he sees a small one, he immediately diverts his eyes from the group of the faithful and directs his attention to the sinner.

He does not care about social conventions nor the holy instructions issued by the religious leaders. He feels an irrepressible need to be with the one who is isolated and despised. 

He says, “I must” stay at your house. I must is for me an inner need: if I am not with you tonight, I will not be able to sleep.

With no appeal, the sentences of the self-righteous have done nothing but make him wicked. The stern and grim looks of the censors, judges, prosecutors only block the unique look that saves, that tender look of Christ.

The story ends with a dinner. The righteous should be inside, instead; they’re all out to murmur, to fret with rage, because they don’t agree with the type of guests Jesus wanted to fill the hall of the heavenly banquet with. The unclean for whom Jesus came are inside.

At this point love begets another love: Zacchaeus, freely loved, realises that there are other people who need love. He remembers the poor. He gives away his possessions to the poor.

Zacchaeus was not admitted to the banquet of the kingdom because he was good. He became good later.


He was converted when he found out that God loved him, even though he was impure, poor and small; precisely because he was small.


Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications