Benny Nalkara, CMI
“Today salvation has come to this house”(Luke 19:9). This statement of blessing by Jesus at the house of the “converted” Zacchaeus seems to be one of the most fascinating declarations of Jesus in a home – context in the Gospels. In the Gospel of Luke, the act of conversion or repentance is often pictured as a homecoming act – an act that is completed at home, or being at home with God. The parable of the Lost Son undoubtedly presents this theme of conversion or repentance as homecoming in a convincing manner. The Zacchaeus episode gives a more vivid and distinct picture to this act of homecoming and the “work from home” that followed.
Most of the unjust and corrupted exercises of authority and power in the world are taken place by the demands of the home. The financial needs of the home often become the catalyst in amassing wealth through unethical and inhuman ways. The structural sins of the society are closely knit with the projects and plans that are envisaged at home. Zacchaeus home may not have been different from this trend. So Jesus might have chosen the home of Zacchaeus to make his conversion possible through the purification of his home.
Jericho is listed as one of the greatest taxation centres in Palestine. Zacchaeus was a man who had reached the top of his profession there; and he was the most hated man in the district. Zacchaeus was wealthy but he was not happy. Inevitably he was lonely, for he had chosen a way that made him an outcast. His home might have been the only place of solace for him where he might have not been criticized or looked down by others for his “unjust” way of tax collection. Now, this home becomes the focus of the episode and the centre of salvation in the life of Zacchaeus pronounced by Jesus. While we find in other conversion stories the act of homecoming – returning to God from the part of the sinners as the starting point of conversion, in the Zacchaeus episode, the homecoming is from the part of Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus wanted to visit the house of Zacchaeus who wished and determined to see Jesus. In fact Jesus wanted to “work from the home” of Zacchaeus. He invited Zacchaeus: “Zacchaeus! Hurry and come down! for this very day I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5).
Jesus’ “work from the home” of Zacchaeus begins with his entry into the house. It was an act that was criticized and questioned by others. This unexpected homecoming of Jesus made all the difference in the life of Zacchaeus who had only the intention to see Jesus, whom he had heard of as a person welcomed tax-collectors and sinners. He might have been totally surprised and shaken by the spontaneous act of Jesus. For a moment, he might have been in a world of disbelief. This shock and surprise are turned into a self examination. Zacchaeus might have been forced to reflect about his own unworthiness to welcome Jesus to his house. Moreover, he might have been compelled to assess the paled face of his home enriched by his own unjust and inhuman possessions. He is compelled to take a U-turn immediately. Such was the effect of the homecoming of Jesus!
The second step of the conversion of Zacchaeus is another “work from home.” This time it is Zacchaeus who works. He declares his intention to do the restitution for his guilt. He decided to give half of his goods to the poor; the other half he did not intend to keep to himself but to use to make restitution for the frauds of which he had been self-confessedly guilty. Actually, in his restitution he went far beyond what was legally necessary. Only if robbery was a deliberate and violent act of destruction was a fourfold restitution necessary (Ex 22:1). If it had been ordinary robbery and the original goods were not restorable, double the value had to be repaid. (Ex 22:4, 7). If voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, the value of the original goods had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Lev 6:5; Num 5:7). Zacchaeus was determined to do far more than the law demanded. He wanted to clean himself by cleaning his home. The decision to give a half of his property to the poor and the resolution to give back to the person whatever he had taken by fraud four times over was actually going to give a crucial blow to the financial stability of his family. But he was fully convinced and repented considering the fact that his home was built on unjust money. His conversion at home and the decision to pay restitution was going to be a demanding one for him, namely, making himself to go to the door steps of the others whom he had looted and tell them, “sorry, I did wrong to you and hurt you. I am ready to repay you in fourfold.” This act of conversion had to be started from own home and to be reached the home of the others.
Finally, the conversion episode of Zacchaeus concludes with the “blessing of the home” by Jesus: “Today salvation has come to this house.” A home that is cleansed by the inner purification of the house owner becomes an abode of salvation. Any conversion through “work from home” culminates at the blessings upon the home. More than the individual, the entire home is blessed.
Jesus wants to enter our homes and is ever ready to help us to have the experience of salvation. His presence and work at our home can cleanse us, liberate us from all the personal and structural bondages and bring peace and joy to our homes. The question is whether we are ready to do “our work from home?”