The people are scandalized that Jesus would spend time with Zaccheus, a man who belonged to a profession that notoriously took advantage of those who were poorest and most vulnerable in order to enrich themselves. (Tax collectors were even worse than you might imagine; see http://www.magisspirituality.org/ignatian_reflection/16-07-01/.) Nonetheless, Jesus reminds us that Zaccheus, “too, is a son of Abraham” (Lk 19:9). This heritage, this inheritance, is almost incomprehensible to us in our era of the “self-made man.” We presume to think that we shape the persons that we are, and there is truth in this. We also think that the one who takes advantage of others is likewise shaped by his actions, and this is true also, as Jesus’ many calls to repentance attest. Our scripture readings, however, suggest that what we make of ourselves is not what is most profound within us. By asserting that Zaccheus is a son of Abraham, Jesus sees beyond Zaccheus’ misdeeds, saying, basically, “I know his dad [Abraham]… the promise God made with him holds for the son, too.” To say this is to telescope salvation history into the history of this one man, Zaccheus, for salvation history is Zaccheus’ history as well.
Man’s salvation history is also our history in Christ, and—more troublingly—that of our enemies. No matter how hard they may try, those who wrong us are never primarily our enemies, but they are rather the beloved sons and daughters that God called into existence and for whom the Son died, preferring their life to his own. “How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?” (Wis 11:25). Because this is so, while a person like Zaccheus may be who he has become as a result of his actions, even more, that person is more truly who he is in the Love of God that creates and redeems him. “You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent” (Wis 11:23). This is a challenge for us: first of all to change our lives so that we may be made worthy of our calling (cf. 2 Thes 1:11), but also to love others as God loves them and on the basis of God’s love for them. For it is through this love that the Son of Man saves what is lost (Lk 19:10) and through our “efforts of faith” in that love that “the name of our Lord Jesus is glorified” in us (cf. 2 Thes 1:11-12).