That beautiful gospel story of Zacchaeus, the rich but short chief tax collector who was privileged to have Christ stay in his house, (cfr Lk 19,1-10) teaches us precious lessons about why and how we should be friendly, compassionate and merciful with everyone, irrespective of whether they are rich or poor, saintly or sinful.
Our Christian faith tells us that God’s love for us is eternal. It’s a love that goes all the way to showing mercy for us in the form of his Son becoming man and taking up all the sins of men by dying on the cross. No greater love can there be other than this love of God for us.
St. Paul drives home this point when he said in his Letter to the Romans: “He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how has he not also, with him, given us all things?” (8,32)
That’s why, in spite of our proclivity to sin and make a mess of our own lives, we can always have reason to be hopeful, because God never gives up on us. The problem is that we can give up on him and go our own desperate ways which we try to sweeten with all sorts of defense mechanisms.
While we should try to be most aware of our sinfulness, we should also try to strengthen our conviction about God’s mercy. That we are sinful is not hard to see. We see our weaknesses and vulnerabilities quite openly. Temptations are also abundant.
We should try our best to fight and cope with them as best that we can, using all the means that Christ himself and the Church now are giving us. We have a very precious treasure in fragile vessels of clay. (cfr. 2 Cor 4,7) We may have a lot of talents and other brilliant endowments, but let’s never forget that we have feet of clay.
This realization should make us most careful and ever vigilant, and should elicit in us great desires to follow Christ as closely as possible and to learn the art and skills of spiritual combat to tackle the unavoidable weaknesses, temptations and falls we will have in life.
On top of all this, and since our best efforts may still be found wanting, let’s never forget the abundant and ever-ready mercy of God whenever we find ourselves in the worst scenarios in life.
We have to continually check on our attitude towards others because today’s dominant culture is filled precisely by the viruses of self-righteousness, that feeling that we are superior to others, and that would prevent us from being compassionate and merciful with everyone. We have to do constant battle against that culture.
That’s why we need to douse immediately any flame of pride and egoism that can come to us anytime. We have to learn to understand others, to accept them as they are, warts and all, while praying and doing whatever we can to help them. It’s not for us to judge their motives which will always be a mystery to us.
We should not fall into the trap of putting justice and mercy in conflict. Both have to go together. Their distinction does not mean they are opposed to each other. Any appearance of conflict is only apparent.
But obviously the way to blend them together is to follow the example of Christ, and not just to rely on our own lights, no matter how brilliant these lights may appear.*