The salvation of any is so very difficult (even the righteous scarcely are saved) while the salvation of the rich is seemingly impossible (Mt 19:24). Jesus explicitly teaches that the salvation of a rich man is so extremely difficult, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Mt 19:24). Much more it such a rich man is a tax collector despised by the Jews as traitor and thief.
Although it is a seeming impossibility for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, with God’s initiative and gift of salvation and man’s cooperation his salvation becomes possible. Indeed, with God what seems impossible becomes possible.
In today’s gospel narrative, we heard a story about Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector of a wealthy city of Jericho, center of commerce and exporter date palms and balsam. The story of Zacchaeus, is a story of a rich man who finds salvation. As Ryle noted, “Here we see the camel passing through the eye of the needle, and the rich man entering the kingdom of God” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House), p. 290)! Although it seem impossible for the rich people to be saved (see Mt 19:24), God can save them. For with God’s grace nothing is impossible. Along with the grace and initiative of God in Christ to seek out and to save what was lost, what saved Zacchaeus from sin and isolation?
First, his humility. He humbled himself in acknowledging his sinfulness before God to the point of seeking to see Jesus who will save him from slavery to sin and misery caused by sin whose nature is to separate us from God and from one another. Humility is the sure evidence of Christian virtues. Without it, we retain all our faults still, and they are only covered over with pride, which hides them from other men’s observation, and sometimes from our own too (François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680), French writer, moralist. repr. F.A. Stokes Co., New York (c. 1930). Moral Maxims and Reflections, no. 358 (1665-1678), trans. London (1706)).
Second, his joyful welcome of Jesus and his gift of salvation and his response of repentance. Interior repentance is a radical orientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts, an end to sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of the spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of the heart) (Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4).
“Penance requires…the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction” Roman Catechism II, V, 21; cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1673). “Penance is therefore a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds, and then to the Christian’s whole life” (RP, n. 4).
Third, his repentance led him to renewal of life in Christ. “Conversion is accomplished and manifested in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, just and equitable reparation of the damage and harm done to others, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right,[Cf. Am 5:24 ; Isa 1:17 .] by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance’ (Cf. Lk 9:23 ).
St. Paul exhorts Christian who repented and converted to Christ:
“I declare and solemnly attest in the Lord that you must no longer live as pagans do – their minds empty, their understanding darkened. They are estranged from a life in God because of their ignorance and their resistance without remorse they have abandoned themselves to lust and the indulgence of every sort of lewd conduct. That is not what you learned when you learned Christ! I am supposing, of course, that he has been preached and taught to you in accord with the truth that is in Jesus: namely, that you must lay aside your former way of life and the old self which deteriorates through illusion and desire and acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God’s image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth” (Eph 4:17-24).
It was not Zacchaeus’ giving money that saved him but his joyful reception of Jesus Christ and his invitation of salvation into his home and heart. Friends, Jesus has been knocking the door of our homes and hearts, be always ready in letting him in that you, like Zacchaeus, shall received the reward of Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10)