31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
“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.” Zacchaeus was serious about following Jesus. Maybe at the start he was just curious when he ran ahead to scale that sycamore tree. But that curiosity developed into a life-changing experience when Jesus called him by name. At that moment, when the Lord chose Zacchaeus to be his host for the evening, the rich tax collector “came down quickly and received him with joy.” And shortly thereafter came his promise of conversion and penance. Not only would he change his ways; he would make up for his former ones. And thus Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Penance isn’t a popular concept in our modern era. We like to think about God’s great mercy and forgiveness, but it’s not so fun to think about the lingering effects of our sin. When Zacchaeus stole money, people suffered, especially the poor. His conversion to the ways of God wouldn’t make up for the suffering he had inflicted on people. But his choice to go back and set things aright could make a difference. Sometimes, we are called to do something similar. Of course it is not always possible to go back and directly restore the relationships or situations that we have damaged through our sins. However, it is always possible to offer a kind of sacrifice—often called “making reparation”—for our sin. We can do something virtuous and offer it to God as a kind of deposit in the universal “bank” of goodness to make up for the unjust withdrawals we have previously made. In this way, we too can show that we are serious about following the Lord.