Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
The keys to the Kingdom: justice and charity
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Lk 19,1-10
Some years ago, I used to have a friend who looked for me to talk a little when, now and then, he had a conscience crisis. The issue was always the same: “We must do something together for the poor countries”, he said. He was an accomplished businessman: he had made a fortune without caring too much for the origin of the cheap prices and sometimes by crushing some people who, in the business world, was a hindrance to him. With time passing by, anyway, his conscience was caught by many doubts, and then he felt the urge to do something for the poor people in the Third World. “We could build a hospital somewhere, the same way Marcello Candia did for the leprous in Amazonia” he said most of the times. “It would be beautiful – I commented – but consider that Mr Candia sold his company and changed his life completely for that plan. Are you willing to do so?”. “Not that! – he used to answer – I could rely on my private belongings, but I cannot sell my company, since I want to leave it to my son. Likewise, I cannot change the way I manage it, because business must be carried out the way I do, or you don’t set yourself into business at all”. “Well, then, go ahead like this, but do not worry too much”: this was the conclusion to each of our talk. He did not want to change his life, he only wanted to let his conscience be quiet so that he could have a positive image of himself. Today’s gospel introduces a character, Zacchaeus, who probably had the same conscience problems as my friend and felt the need to meet Jesus in order to solve them, even if he did not know what would turn out. Since he is short and surrounded by the crowd, he climbs up a sycamore (a tree making a sort of figs) in order to see him. As soon as Jesus sees him in that position, he tells him: “Zacchaeus, get down, right now, because I want to stop at your house”. Until now, Zacchaeus has behaved like every person having some conscience problems to solve, but now, since he is a smart man, he understands that this is the opportunity to sweep the board with his past and start anything new, a new life. So, he immediately plays the two cards every man disposes of in order to behave in a Christian and right way, cleverly: justice and charity. You cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven by playing only one of them, you must play them both: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor [charity] and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over [justice]”. Before this man, who has the courage to risk it all, Jesus announces: “Today salvation has come to this house”. The door of the Kingdom is opened by two turns: justice and charity. You cannot enter by a single turn.