In the story of Jesus and the tax collector, Zacchaeus [Luke 19:1-10, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C], we see Jesus acting as the Good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep. While the crowds are spiritually “throwing stones” at Zacchaeus by means of their judgmental attitudes towards him, Jesus sees someone who needs God’s mercy. Jesus offers Zacchaeus hospitality and the result is a changed, converted “Son of Abraham.”
What type of heart did Jesus have that allowed Him to act as Good Shepherd while the crowd acted as stone throwers toward Zacchaeus? How about Jesus’ personal heart? In the book A Heart Like His, Thomas Williams, the author describes Jesus’ personal heart, a heart that sees “persons” and not just “sinners.” A heart that sees beneath the surface in order to see the person created in God’s image and likeness. A likeness that is not destroyed or removed due to a person’s sinfulness. Let me share with you some of the author’s thoughts about Jesus’ personal heart.
We are used to a utilitarian ethic whereby we look for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, despite the unhappy consequence that some will fall through the cracks. As long as most people are okay, we figure we’re doing pretty well. That wasn’t Jesus’ ethics at all. All it took was one person in need to move Jesus’ heart. All it took was a single individual (even an unworthy, sinful individual) to set him in action. For Jesus, human beings were never numbers; they were always persons. And for Jesus, every person was irreplaceable. He didn’t distinguish between important people and unimportant people. All were of infinite worth to him.
That’s why Jesus makes time for everyone. That’s why Jesus treats each person with the same respect. Jesus never made ‘quality of life’ judgments to see who deserved his attention and his care. For him, every human life had the essential quality of being his brother and sister. That was enough.
The Gospels often speak of Jesus addressing the ‘crowds’ that followed after him, yet time after time they also narrate his encounters with real-life people: widows, soldiers, prostitutes, paralytics, lepers, beggars, and so on. They tell us of Jesus’ meeting with Jairus the synagogue official and Zacchaeus the tax collector and Simon the leper and of course, Mary Magdalene ‘from whom seven demons had gone out.’ Day after day Jesus devoted himself to real people, with names, addresses, personal histories, and individual needs.
Sometimes, too, we can romanticize what these people were like to deal with on a daily basis. Jesus didn’t love them because they were such fine people that one couldn’t help but love them. Most of the people Jesus dealt with were petty, short-sighted, and deeply flawed. Some were cheats. Others were scheming. Still others were lazy, lustful, and dishonest. Yet Jesus loved these people, the imperfect and often unpleasant ones.
To have a heart like Christ’s means to have a heart that sees every human being as precious. It means a personal touch in our dealings with others, even if they are ‘only’ the checkout clerk at the grocery store or the shampoo girl at eh hair salon. Loving humanity must translate into loving the person next to me right now. The maxim ‘charity begins at home’ has special significance in this context. The people we rub shoulders with every day – especially our immediate family – are often those we find it hardest to love, simply because we have to deal with them very day. Yet in those all-too-real people beside us, with all their limitations and annoying habits, we discover our special vocation to Christian charity.