You and I know the names of those who are important to us, whether we know them personally or not. We know the names of our pope and famous American politicians because our Catholic faith and the future of our country matter to us.
We don’t know the names of the king of Norway or the bishop of Oslo because we don’t live in Scandinavia, and so what they do doesn’t impact us nearly as much. We know cousins, coworkers and neighbors who matter to us and don’t know those who don’t.
In our Gospel, there is a detail you may not have noticed: Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ name. Zacchaeus was not the kind of person you’d expect a holy man to know. He was a chief tax collector for — an agent of — the hated Romans, a collaborator who got rich exploiting his own people, a greedy traitor. But for some reason, he mattered to Jesus and as bad as he was, Zacchaeus had already heard about Jesus’ acceptance of sinners and felt drawn to him.
Indeed his spirit was so empty that he did an incredibly undignified thing: he climbed a tree, something a boy might do but certainly not the chief local internal revenue agent for the most powerful empire in the world. But Zacchaeus was well beyond caring what other people thought; they didn’t like him anyway! All that mattered to him was seeing Jesus, who could give him forgiveness, a fresh start, a way out of the mess he had made of his life.
And when Zacchaeus heard Jesus actually call him, specifically him, by his own name, he learned not only that he mattered to Jesus but also that Jesus wanted to come to his house and be part of his life — all he had to do was say yes.
But Zacchaeus didn’t stop there. Jesus loved and accepted him unconditionally, but Zacchaeus knew that to reciprocate this love, he’d have to make some changes, which I’ll bet he’d wanted to do for a long time but just hadn’t or felt like he couldn’t. He’d have to find honest employment that would undoubtedly pay less and new friends who would support him in living a virtuous life, and he may have feared that if he made these changes, he’d end up poor and lonely. But deep down, he knew that spiritually speaking, he was already poor and lonely, so Jesus’ offer to enter his life was exactly the excuse he needed to seek forgiveness, make amends and start heading in the right direction.
He made amends for his greed by giving half his belongings to the poor and repaying fourfold those from whom he had extorted money. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus not only into his house but also into his heart.
And the same can and should be true for you. Do you realize how much you matter to him? Jesus knows your name and loves you very much. He accepts you just as you are unconditionally. You have already said “yes” to him, so you have already experienced him coming into your house, so to speak, meaning into your life and staying with you. And he comes back again, repeatedly, especially when we feel we are at our lowest point, say when illness strikes or family trouble has turned our life upside down, or when we feel really empty inside like Zacchaeus was in today’s Gospel.
Perhaps even unable to pray, but still saying our “yes.” Like they say, “fake it until you make it!” And after all, we don’t just say “yes” one time; Jesus is our friend, we want him to come into our house and stay with us always.
When he feels absent, all we have to do is say “yes” again, and he’ll come to your house again and stay with you again as you welcome him into your heart again like Zacchaeus did, which may require you to make some changes too, perhaps to trust Jesus more or make amends to anyone who you may have hurt like Zacchaeus promised to do. Jesus calls you by name because you matter to him. Your response shows how much he matters to you.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 30.
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