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Gospel for Sunday, October 30: Luke 19: 1-10

XXXI Sunday C

1Having entered Jericho, he passed through the city. 2And behold, a man named Zacchaeus, chief of the tax collectors and rich, 3he tried to see which Jesus was, but he couldn’t because of the crowd, since he was small in stature. 4Then he ran forward and, in order to see him, climbed a sycamore tree, since he had to pass that way. 5When he arrived at the place, Jesus looked up and said to him: «Zacchaeus, come down immediately, because today I have to stop at your house». 6He quickly came down and welcomed him full of joy. 7Seeing this, everyone murmured: “He has gone to stay with a sinner!” 8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord: “Behold, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone, I pay back four times as much”. 9Jesus answered him: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham; 10in fact the Son of man came to seek and save what was lost”.

Luke 19: 1-10

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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There are many elements for reflection that this well-known and splendid passage of the Gospel suggests to us.

Jesus is on the road from Galilee to Jerusalem, the destination of the journey he undertook with great determination (Lk 9.51). While Jesus is passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus enters the scene. “He is « a man » (Lk 19,2), this is his primary quality: the evangelist highlights it immediately, to clarify what the main protagonist of the story is” (E. Bianchi).

First of all we are faced with a small, short rich man. He is not only a publican, but a “chief of publicans”, a kind of mafia boss, the prototype of the sinner.

Wealth is not everything, it does not solve all problems. Zacchaeus is a stout man who has to climb a tree to see Jesus. His money does not favor him in his encounter with the Lord. Indeed, for him an additional effort is needed. But Zacchaeus is not afraid of exposing himself to ridicule: imagine the reaction of the bystanders who see an important man, a “head of the stick”, climbing a tree…

Zacchaeus is eager to meet the Lord. Not only did he climb a tree, but first he started running “forward” (Lk 19.4), because his heart ardently desired to see Jesus. Following the Lord is always walking after Jesus (Lk 7.38 ; 9.23; 14.27): here is the only case in the Gospels in which someone even surpasses him, full of zeal!

There is therefore man’s availability, but it is always the Lord that he calls. It is almost humorous that Jesus, who many times raised his gaze to heaven as a sign of relationship with the Father (Mk 6.41; Mt 14.19; Lk 9.16; Mk 7.34; Jn 17.1), this time looks up you look and you find a sinner in a tree. Jesus calls him and invites himself to his house.

“Jesus knows how to go beyond common opinion, he is capable of feeling big, of seeing in depth: he sees a man where others only see a criminal, he grasps the condition of a human being in each of his interlocutors, without any prevention. His name is Zakkaj, which means “pure, innocent”: irony of fate or another detail that tells us between the lines what only Jesus can see in him? (E. Bianchi).

Jesus tells him to come down “immediately, because today I must stop at your house” (Lk 19.5): and then he will say: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19.9). The answer to the call must be given immediately, in “today”: “Today, in the city of David, a Savior is born for you” (Lk 2,11), the angels announce to the shepherds; “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears” (Lk 4:21), Jesus proclaims in the synagogue of Nazareth; “Today with me you will be in paradise” (Lk 23.43), Jesus promises the good thief from the cross. We cannot postpone conversion to another occasion. Starting today I have to change my life.

How beautiful is Zacchaeus’ welcome: it is that of a man “full of joy” (Lk 19.6). Zacchaeus understood that the Gospel of the Lord is truly “Good News”, that following Christ means entering a dimension of joy, of happiness, of endless bliss. As Saint Augustine said: “No one makes us happier than God”. Zacchaeus I understood that it is not money that gives happiness, but that it is the acceptance of the Lord and of his Gospel.

Note that Jesus does not ask for Zacchaeus’ conversion before going to him. It is God who always takes the first step, his forgiveness precedes our conversion, his love our response of love, we are justified by virtue of the encounter with Christ, not by our works, but “freely by his grace ”, as Saint Paul will say in the Letter to the Romans (Rm 3,21-25).

The usual respectable religious people oppose Christ and are scandalized that he goes to lunch with a sinner. For Jews, eating a meal together was not just a banal gesture, but indicated profound communion. In the Apocalypse we read, to indicate absolute intimacy: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone… opens the door for me, I will come to him and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).

Yet the Rabbis taught (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 25b): “Let no one meet with the sinner, not even to lead him to the study of the Law”. In fact, the problem was not only that Jesus had some unsavory acquaintances, but that by being with them he contracted that legal impurity which made him unfit for worship. The scribes of the Pharisees were therefore scandalized (Mk 2:16).

Jesus, to be with his needier brothers, is not afraid of making himself “impure”. This is his mission, which Paul describes with what theologians call the “paradoxical formulas of the Incarnation”: for the love of men, Jesus does not hesitate to become “poor” (2 Cor 8.9), “in one flesh similar to that of sin” (Rom 8,3-4), to become “sin” (2 Cor 5,21), “curse” (Gal 3,13-14)…

Jesus allows himself to be touched by “a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhage for twelve years” (Mk 5.25), despite the fact that according to the Law she was unclean (Lev 15.19.25). He lets himself be kissed, at the house of Simon “the leper”, by a “sinful” woman (Mk 14.3-9; Lk 7.39). Jesus touches the lepers to heal them (Mk 1.40-45), breaking the legal segregation to which they were forced (Lev 13.45-46). Jesus welcomes the adulteress by forgiving her (Jn 8.1-11), instead of stoning her as the Law commanded (Dt 22.22-24)…

Zacchaeus immediately understands that welcoming the Lord means welcoming his brothers. He was a publican, that is, he collected taxes on behalf of the Romans, and his earnings came from the crest he placed on the quota that the Roman oppressor asked him to bring him annually. Zacchaeus makes a radical choice: he not only shares half of his goods with the poor, but compensates four times as much those from whom he extorted. In other words, he totally divests himself of his possessions.

Note how his statement, rather than seeming to be a limitation of donation to the poor, is instead a clear attestation of the primacy of justice over charity. He will be able to give to the poor only when he has done justice to the fraudulently accumulated goods. It should also be underlined that he also accompanies the act of justice with a strong atonement: repaying four times as much, which in the Torah is required in only one case, that of the theft of a ram (Ex 21.37), and in Roman law only for “obvious thefts”, those of public scandal.

Jesus celebrates this conversion, proclaiming once again that he is not the one who came to judge or condemn the world, but the one who came to save everyone, so that no one is lost (Lk 19.9-10). “Jesus did not come for the best, for those who are judged to be the best. He is here to help us in our fragility and poverty, to correct those who make mistakes, to bring back to the right path those who are lost along the interrupted paths of our time, for those who still feel unworthy of accessing the majesty of God. Let us glorify his clemency and let us be guided by him towards the goal of joy and peace” (C. M. Martini).

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at


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