A brief reflection on Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus

Who does not know the biblical passage that narrates the insistence of little Zacchaeus to see Jesus? Without a doubt, this is one of the most well-known passages in the Gospel and, why not say it, one of the most emblematic! In just ten verses this whole narrative, full of nuances, is presented. Although there are few verses, they have a lot to teach us.

The first verse of chapter 19 of the Gospel of Luke opens this narrative saying that “Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the city”. One thing is quite evident: if Jesus was going through the city, he was certainly going somewhere previously planned, after all, Jesus was not disoriented by Palestinian lands.

Illustrative photo: ZU_09 by Getty Images

Jesus meets Zacchaeus on the way to the cross

At this point, a first question arises: where would Jesus be going? The answer can easily be found if we persevere a little more in reading that same chapter 19. Jesus was “going up to Jerusalem”. A second question is necessary: ​​what, after all, would Jesus do in Jerusalem? Well, the answer to that question is extremely important. Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to be judged, condemned and killed.

The time was approaching, therefore, when Jesus would last supper with His disciples, pass through the supreme anguish, be arrested, judged, condemned crucified and killed. Note that Jesus was not walking in Jericho, on the contrary, he was heading for the most decisive moment of his life and, of course, of all mankind . After all, the death on the cross meant the forgiveness and salvation of all human beings.

The encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus

Passing through that region, however, Jesus found a man; his name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is derived from the word “Zakchaios”, a Hebrew name that means pure, just.

Just to open a parenthesis, we know that, in the Bible, people’s names are directly linked to their specific mission. For example, Abraham meant “father of many people”. It is not by chance that, from Abraham, the three great religious aspects of humanity developed: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Peter (Petrus) means “stone”: “… you are Peter, and on this stone I will build my church (cf. Mt 16:18). Jesus’ own name means “God who saves”, and, in fact, Jesus was God and saved everyone. The Bible is full of these examples.

There was something strange. “Zacchaeus”, which meant “just”, was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews, Jesus’ compatriots. Jews saw tax collectors as major traitors, since they worked for the Roman Empire. They were seen as someone who stole their own people.

In the case of Zacchaeus , he still had an aggravating factor, he was not a simple tax collector, the word presents him as the “head of the collectors”. If tax collectors were seen by Jews as sinners and traitors, Zacchaeus would be even more so, the “chief of sinners” or the “chief traitor”.

Zacchaeus, who was supposed to be “fair” in view of his name, did not act as such. An important reflection is necessary here. In baptism, we become children of God. Whatever the name we receive from our parents at the time of our baptism, we are true children of God. And if we are Children of God, we should be acting as such. But are we really?

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Part of membership is the search for trust. The child who sees himself as vulnerable knows that he can trust his father (or, at least, it should be). The son is also the one who obeys, who allows himself to be guided, to be led (at least, it should be so). He is the one who always has an open mind to receive the teachings of his father and an open heart to receive love and affection from him (or, at least, it should be so). The child, in short, needs to be a child, at least, it should be like that. I then rephrase the following statement: we are truly children of God! If we are not, “Zacchaeus” could be our name.

Our reflection does not stop here. In the next article, we will reflect a little more about Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus.


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