For young people, or even for everyone, it is important to be have another shot at something, a second chance. We saw this in our work with high school students, and now among the public school teachers we train.
Everybody deserves a second chance, one that will transform us to become better. Such is the story of Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel, about a man who gets a second chance, grabs it, is transformed not only for the better in the here and now, but for eternity.
Zacchaeus is hated by the Jewish community for being a rich tax collector for the Roman Empire. There is in Zacchaeus, however, a desire we can best glean from his wanting to see Christ—which, along with a handicap, his height, becomes the channel of his transformation and salvation.
He climbs a sycamore tree to have a good look at Christ. Christ notices him and responds with a call: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” It is the offer of a second chance. And this offer Zacchaeus grabs: “He came down quickly and received him with joy.”
Amid this joy and new life comes the wet blanket, the crab mentality that pulls down not just Zacchaeus, but more so Christ: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
The transformation now goes into full gear. Zacchaeus literally and figuratively stands his ground: “But Zacchaeus stood there…” The Filipino term is vivid and dynamic—“nanindigan.”
Zacchaeus transforms because of Christ—in, through, for, and with Christ.
He acknowledges his sin and wrongdoing and restores the balance of justice by reparation, giving half his wealth to the poor, and repaying four times over those he had defrauded
He does this because he is given a second chance to transform by righting his wrongs.
Immediately after the May 2016 elections I suggested to some people who wanted to do something positive to help the nation with “Project Zacchaeus,” something similar to the truth commission concept.
The truth commission started in South America, and the most famous one is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.
The Philippines had its own truth commission in 2010. The basic task of such bodies is to investigate violations of human rights and cases of graft and corruption, with the hope and aim to restore justice.
The fundamental difference is the task. The truth commission investigates to arrive at the truth of the “sin.”
Project Zacchaeus invites the “sinner” to come clean, thus the need to create the environment that will encourage the “sinner” to seek transformation and restoration.
So far, none of those I suggested the project to have responded. No takers, but I have not lost hope that the Zacchaeus principle and grace will still help transform and restore justice in our society.
Perhaps the best invitation to others is for me to renew my desire to see and to know Christ again, and in doing so, renew my love for him—to climb my own sycamore tree from where he will call me again by name.
Renewal, transformation, restoration, the graces of a second chance—these lead us and our community to wholeness.
The call is critical for the transformation to happen. We must hear it and, when heard, we need to make a choice.
I end with a short reflection on one of the Filipino words for restoration—pagpapanumbalik.