BY JUSTIN WHITE | October 31, 2022
Whenever I read or listen to the Gospel story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, I’m always drawn to the fact that he climbs a tree. I imagine the scene and I find myself pondering the moment right before he grabs a tree limb and starts his climb. Was it literally a movement of practically? Had he done this before whenever there were parades or celebrations in the town? Or did he climb the tree because he couldn’t deny the genuine excitement and the deep call within him to lay his eyes on this miracle worker?
We may never know the full reasoning for his ascent up the tree but we do know the details of his transformation, his conversion, upon his descent down the tree.
This is a story of reconciliation in its truest form. I strongly believe that Jesus saw that Zacchaeus—as well as the community he lived in—needed healing. A healing of a different kind. The physical body of Zacchaeus was not healed, but the body of the community was. Jesus did not directly rebuke the grumblings of the crowd towards this tax collector, but Jesus’ invitation towards kinship fostered new words.
And what does Zacchaeus do with this invitation? He releases himself from the existence that had built a wall between himself and his community. We’ll never know if he had been planning this self-enforced retirement for a while or if it was a spirit-inspired epiphany. Regardless of the details of its arrival, Zacchaeus felt his worth and the worth of all those around him. To invoke the theme from the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice this year—Rooted and Renewing—I would say that Zacchaeus and the community were able to be rooted in a new understanding of each other and renewed in their worth.
Isn’t that what reconciliation is about? Isn’t that what justice is about? Isn’t that what the Gospel truth is about?
The understanding of my worth can and should call me to collaborate in uplifting everyone else’s. And when I can’t see that…maybe I need to go climb a tree.
Justin T. White is a middle school counselor, admissions associate, and clubs and activities coordinator at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, Maryland.