On the Desire to See Jesus

That little man, rejected by everyone and distant from Jesus, is as if lost in anonymity; but Jesus calls him, and that name ‘Zacchaeus,’ in the language of that time, has a beautiful meaning, full of allusions: ‘Zacchaeus,’ in fact, means ‘God remembers’

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Here is a translation of the address Francis gave before and after praying the midday Angelus on Sunday with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters, hello!

This Sunday’s Gospel passage from Luke shows us that Jesus, on his journey to Jerusalem, enters the city of Jericho. This is the last stage of a journey that sums up in itself Jesus’ whole life, which is dedicated to seeking out and saving the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But the closer the journey comes to its destination, the more a circle of hostility closes in on Jesus.

And yet in Jericho there occurs one of the most joyful events narrated by Luke: the conversion of Zacchaeus. This man is a lost sheep, he is despised and an “excommunicant,” because he is a publican, indeed, he is the head of the publicans in the city, a friend of the hated Roman occupiers, he is a thief and an exploiter.

Prevented from getting nearer to Jesus, probably because of bad reputation, and being short, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see the Master who is passing by. This exterior gesture, a little ridiculous, nevertheless expressed the interior act of the man who tries to get above the crowd to have contact with Jesus. Zacchaeus himself does not know the profound meaning of his gesture, he does not know why he does this but he does it; nor does he dare to hope that he might overcome the distance that separates him from the Lord; he resigns himself simply to seeing him pass by. But Jesus, when he comes closer to the tree, calls him by name. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). That little man, rejected by everyone and distant from Jesus, is as if lost in anonymity; but Jesus calls him, and that name “Zacchaeus,” in the language of that time, has a beautiful meaning, full of allusions: “Zacchaeus,” in fact, means “God remembers.”

And Jesus enters Zacchaeus’ house, provoking the criticism of all the people of Jericho (because even in that time people gossiped a lot!), who said: “What? With all the excellent people who are in this city, he goes and stays with that publican?” Yes, because he was lost; and Jesus says: «Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). From that day forward, into Zacchaeus’ house entered joy, entered peace, entered salvation, entered Jesus. There is no profession or social condition, there is no sin or crime of any sort that can erase any one of God’s children from his memory and from his heart. “God remembers” always and he never forgets anyone that he has created; God is Father, always in vigilant and loving expectation of seeing the desire to return home be born in his child. And when he sees that desire, even if it is barely aroused, and many times almost unconscious, he is immediately there, and with his forgiveness he makes the journey of conversion and return easier. Let us look at Zacchaeus today on the tree: what he does is a bit ridiculous, but it is a deed of salvation. And I say to you: if you have a burden on your conscience, if you are ashamed of many things that you have done, stop for a moment, do not be afraid. Know that someone waits for you because he has never forgotten you; and this person is your Father, it is God who awaits you! Like Zacchaeus, climb up the tree of the desire to be forgiven; I assure you that you will not be disappointed. Jesus is merciful and never tires of forgiving us! Remember this well, this is how Jesus is.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us too allow ourselves to be called by name Jesus! In the depths of our heart let us listen to his voice, which says to us: “Today I stay at your house,” that is, in your heart, in your life. And let us welcome him with joy: he can change us, he can transform our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, he can free us from egoism and make our life a gift of love. Jesus can do it; let Jesus heal you!

[Following the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted those who were present in the piazza of St. Peter’s.]

Dear brothers and sisters,

I greet with affection all the Romans and pilgrims who are present, especially the families, the parishes and the groups from many countries around the world.

I greet the faithful from Lebanon and those from the city of Madrid.

I greet the young people from Petosino, the confirmandi from Grassina and the young people from Cavallermaggiore; the pilgrims from Naples, Salerno, Venice, Nardò and Gallipoli.

I wish everyone a good Sunday and a good lunch. Goodbye!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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