Allowing ourselves to be loved by God

Allowing ourselves to be loved by God Zacchaeus receives Jesus depicted in a stained glass window at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho in the Holy Land.
The Sunday Gospel

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name and brings salvation to his house. Zacchaeus was the one above who looked down while Jesus was the one on ground level who looked up.

Jericho was a wealthy town – set in a green, fertile oasis between the River Jordan on one side and a brown, barren wilderness on the other side. Furthermore, it was on the trade route between Jerusalem and the east. Zacchaeus was representative of that prosperity. As superintendent of taxes, he was very wealthy because there were many sources of taxation there. Yet for all his wealth, there was something missing, something that money could not buy. On one side of his territory was the fertile land. On the other was the barren desert. He had climbed to the top of the ladder but he was sensing that he had climbed the wrong wall. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was.


Luke gives us a perspicacious account of the inner movements of his conversion. There is a note of energy in the way Luke tells us how “Zacchaeus made his appearance.” There was something driving him, his inner emptiness surely. He was short and could not see Jesus because of the crowd. Perhaps this is more than a statement of his physical stature. He was also short of self-esteem because the popular estimation of tax collectors left him with little hope of God’s favour. His anxiety to see Jesus drove him to throw caution to the wind in an action quite undignified for a man of his position: he ran ahead and climbed a tree to look down for a glimpse of Jesus through the leaves.

If Zacchaeus was a man who had climbed up, Jesus was the one who had come down. He came down from heaven to stand with us on the ground-level of life. This is the level of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the gentle, those who work for justice, those who are pure of heart…”

As St Paul expressed it: “Although he was rich, he became poor for your sake, so that you should become rich through his poverty”. Pope Francis calls the Beatitudes the identity card of a Christian. “In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.” Zacchaeus was called to come down from the false ladder he had climbed in his career.

Zacchaeus must have wondered how Jesus knew his name. But God knows each one of us by name and loves each one with a personal love. “Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by your name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

It is significant that the Sacrament of Baptism begins with a ceremony of naming. It is a pity that very often nowadays the name has no Christian association. What used to be called one’s Christian name is now called your ‘first name’, a sign of the times we live in.

When Zacchaeus hears his name and experiences the eye of Jesus, it is a moment of grace, what T.S. Eliot called “the point of the intersection of the timeless with time”.

Some 50 years ago, Peter G. Van Breemen published a book entitled Called by Name which touched the right button for a multitude of readers. What moved readers in a special way was the chapter entitled The Courage to Accept Acceptance. God’s love for us is not conditioned by our worthiness or by what we have merited. Jesus himself said that there is more joy in heaven at the return of one sinner than at the 99 others who have no need of repentance. Zacchaeus’ repentance was total, promising to give half his money to the poor and to repay anybody he cheated four times as much.

As we have noted several times in these weekly reflections, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is never far away from a table. True to form, Jesus told Zacchaeus to hurry down because he intended to dine in his house. He took the initiative because he was aware that Zacchaeus, regarded as a sinner, would not be in a position to invite him. In the eyes of the strict legalists, it was bad enough to speak with sinners but to eat with them was a total scandal. They must have overlooked the Book of Wisdom which supplies our first reading today.

“Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things

and overlook people’s sins so that they can repent.

Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you made in abhorrence,

for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it.”

Salvation, not condemnation, came to Zacchaeus that day.


The first major document that a new Pope issues, is a key to what he intends to promote during his papacy. Pope Francis began with The Joy of the Gospel. It starts off with the invitation of Jesus to develop a strong personal relationship or at least to give it a try. As with Zacchaeus, Jesus calls us by name to open the door of our lives to invite him in. At least, give it a try. Invite the Lord to your mind, your heart and your hands.

Open your mind to God. Open the door to your inner room. Turn off television, radio, phone and allow space for God every day.

Open your heart to God. As Pope Francis expressed it, allow yourself be loved. You are called by name. You are Christian, belonging to Christ. He is your Saviour. He wants you to accept his love.

Open your hands to God, as Zacchaeus did when he resolved to share with others. Christ has no hands now but yours. He is counting on you.


The Lord is kind and full of compassion,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

How good is the Lord to all,

compassionate to all his creatures.

All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,

and your friends shall repeat their blessing.

They shall speak of the glory of your reign

and declare your might, O God.


Fr Silvester O’Flynn’s book, Gospel Prayers and Reflections is available to purchase at Columba Books.