I was reading an article in a Catholic magazine and it was on the different reactions people had to Pope Francis’ recent interview with an Italian editor. One Catholic author wasn’t all that impressed with the interview. He thought the Pope should be more cautious in his replies to interviewers. She thought the Pope was like ‘a person unburdening oneself with friends after a good dinner and plenty of wine.’ The author of the article had this observation about that remark, ‘that this is a pretty fair description of the Jesus of the gospels.’ He said that many biblical commentators have suggested that the gospels might be classified as Jesus’s “table talk”.
As for the comment about plenty of wine he reminded us that the first miracle of Jesus was supplying a young bride and groom with an abundance of wine so that the celebration of their life and love could go on. His enemies referred to Jesus as a wine bibber.
But Jesus taught us many things while enjoying a meal. He warned us to come properly dressed for a meal, he cautioned us not to take the first place at table lest we be told to give up that place to someone more important. We should always respond to an invitation to a meal. He told us that when we invite people to a meal it is best to invite those who do not have the means or ability to invite us to their home. It was at a meal he accepted the gratitude and love of the sinful woman. It was at his final meal, after a long conversation with his friends and plenty of wine that Jesus gave us the gift of the Eucharist we are now celebrating, offering us his body and blood as our nourishment.
In today’s gospel there is a bit of a switch. Usually people invited Jesus to a meal. In the gospel Jesus invites himself into the home of Zacchaeus –‘I must stay at your house today.’
By choosing to be a tax collector Zacchaeus had separated himself from the Jewish community. He was working for the enemy, the pagan Romans. But he must have heard of Jesus and was curious about him otherwise why make the effort of running ahead of the group and climbing the tree.
One commentator says the Zacchaeus was basically a good man, he made his profits for sure but he also gave generously to the poor and he promised Jesus that if it was shown he cheated anyone he would generously make it up to them. Other people grumbled about Jesus going and being a guest of a sinner but Jesus was really reaching out to this good man and by dining with him he showed Zacchaeus the respect his neighbours denied him.
We see so much of this in the ministry of Pope Francis. He visits a prison and washes the feed of young men and women; he goes to a port city to be with refugees who risked their lives to find freedom. He welcomes and is willing to meet with believers and non-believers. He reaches out to those alienated from the church. In this he follows Jesus as we are all meant to do. We are to reach out to the new comer, we are to reach out to the poor, the needy, the homeless and the hungry, and we are to reach out to those men and women who are exploited by employers. How can we do this? That goes back to our own ingenuity and generosity, our own willingness to help or be present to others. Charity begins at home. If we are alienated from some family member, some relative then we make the effort to reach out to them and make peace with them.
As we continue to celebrate and share in this Eucharistic meal with one another and with Jesus we pray that just as Jesus reached to Zacchaeus and changed his life we too will have the generosity we need to reach out to those who need our help, our love our healing.