This is the address of Pope Benedict XVI, given on Sunday 31st October before praying the midday Angelus together with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
The evangelist St. Luke pays special attention to the theme of Jesus’ mercy. In his narration in fact we find some episodes that highlight the merciful love of God and of Christ, who said that he had come to call, not the just, but sinners (cf. Luke 5:32). Among Luke’s typical accounts there is that of the conversion of Zacchaeus, which is read in this Sunday’s liturgy. Zacchaeus is a publican, indeed, he is the head publican of Jericho, and important city on the Jordan River. The publicans collected the tribute that the Jews had to pay to the Roman emperor, and already for this reason they were considered public sinners. What is more, they often profited from their position by extorting money from the people. Because of this Zacchaeus was very rich but despised by his fellow citizens. So when Jesus was passing through Jericho and stopped at the house of Zacchaeus, he caused a major scandal. The Lord, however, knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted, so to speak, to gamble, and he won the bet: Zacchaeus, deeply moved by Jesus’ visit, decides to change his life, and promises to restore four times what he had stolen. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus says, and concludes: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
God excludes no one, neither the poor nor the rich. God does not let himself be conditioned by our human prejudices, but sees in everyone a soul to save and is especially attracted to those who are judged as lost and who think themselves so. Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God, has demonstrated this immense mercy, which takes nothing away from the gravity of sin, but aims always at saving the sinner, at offering him the possibility of redemption, of starting over from the beginning, of converting. In another passage of the Gospel Jesus states that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 19:23). In the case of Zacchaeus we see that precisely what seems impossible actually happens: “He,” St. Jerome comments, “gave away his wealth and immediately replaced it with the wealth of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Homily on Psalm 83:3). And Maximus of Turin adds: “Riches, for the foolish, feed dishonesty, but for the wise they are a help to virtue; for the latter they offer a chance of salvation, for the former they procure a stumbling block and perdition” (Sermon 95).
Dear Friends, Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus and converted because Jesus first welcomed him! He did not condemn him but he met his desire for salvation. Let us pray to the Virgin Mary, perfect model of communion with Jesus, to be renewed by his love, and to show his mercy to others.