Reflection on the Gospel-31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C (Luke 19:1-10) -Veronica Lawson RSM

Several years ago, a little book came my way and proceeded to turn my world upside down. The author of that book was German forester Peter Wohlleben, its title The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World. I have long mourned the destruction of trees, local and global, including the threatened trees of the Amazon. I grew up loving, valuing and sometimes climbing the trees in the shadow of Geboor (Mount Macedon). My present neighbours are the trees of the Woowookarrung Regional Park. Wohlleben’s book brought home to me how much I had still to learn about these precious gifts of life and love.

Luke’s story of the toll-collector Zacchaeus provides me with yet another opportunity to give thanks for the wonder of trees, their intrinsic beauty and the life they sustain. A sycamore tree is at the heart of this story. Once I would have thought of this tree simply as one of the props in the human story that unfolds, providing as it does the platform for a height challenged would-be disciple of Jesus who wants to “see”. The human encounter with the holy is foregrounded in this story and is in no way to be discounted. This is not a reason to relegate the tree to the status of prop. The forests of the Amazon, of Australia and elsewhere, continue to be threatened by extensive land clearing. The planet cannot breathe without its trees. We might keep this in mind as we turn to the human elements in the story of Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus is a wealthy man, a chief tax collector, possibly responsible for overseeing the activities of other tax collectors. He wants to see what Jesus is like and he lets nothing get in the way. He runs ahead and climbs the sycamore tree. Jesus looks up and tells him to come down quickly, “for I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus offers hospitality “joyfully”. Hospitality, joy, haste to respond to divine visitation: these are constant themes in Luke.

“All those who see” complain that Jesus chooses to stay with a sinner, no doubt considering themselves more worthy hosts for God’s prophet. There are clues in the text that Zacchaeus has already changed his ways, however. The future tense in translations (‘I will pay’) obscures this important element. He gives half his property to the destitute and, if he has cheated anyone, he pays them back four times the amount. Jesus looks at Zacchaeus and assures him that salvation has come to his house. He then acts to restore honour to Zacchaeus in the eyes of those who hold him and his kind in contempt. Zacchaeus is affirmed as a true descendant of his forbears in faith. Salvation for our house, our “common home”, will only come with comparable attention to what we have despoiled.