In the Gospel Reading, Jesus comes to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner, and it is an enormous honor for Zacchaeus that he does.
Great honors come to great people. If you are a great scientist you might win the Nobel prize. If you are a great athlete you might win an Olympic gold medal. The people who get these honors seem amazing to us. And yet these are not the big honors. They pale in comparison to having God incarnate come to dinner.
So what is it about Zacchaeus that makes him win an honor bigger than the Nobel prize or the Olympic gold medal? What are the standards of greatness on God’s standards of value?
The Second Reading explains it. Paul prays for the Thessalonians, he tells them, that they may be made worthy of the calling of God. And how are they made worthy? By living in such a way that the name of Jesus is glorified in their lives.
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus comes to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner, and it is an enormous honor for Zacchaeus that he does. How does a life glorify the name of Jesus? Well, people looking at you will not think the God you worship is great if you humiliate your wife in public, neglect your children, spend most of your free time on TV, gossip maliciously about others, and try hard to get as much attention for yourself as you can, will they? Who would want to be like you? Who would want to worship the God you say you worship?
So to be great by God’s standards of value is to live in such a way that others looking at you can see and admire the greatness of the Lord.
Now notice Zacchaeus. He didn’t attract anyone’s admiration. He was a tax collector, who got rich from the oppression of his own people. He didn’t care much for his own dignity either. Short as he was, he climbed a tree to see Jesus.
But this is the point of the story and the answer to the question about greatness, isn’t it?
A person’s winning human prizes (and being tall) isn’t what glorifies the Lord. What glorifies the Lord is a person’s seeking the Lord first, above all other prizes.
Zacchaeus doesn’t care what happens to him as long as he can get to the Lord. That is what makes Zacchaeus great. And that is why Jesus came to dinner at his house.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University