He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)
What can you say about your eyes? What do you see in others? What do you see in yourself? What do you think God sees in you? What people see, and how they see, can affect human relationships in many ways. Sight is a precious gift from God. The greatest act of seeing is to behold another human being made in the image and likeness of God. One recalls the glorious moment when Adam saw Eve for the first time: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). In fact, early on in Genesis 1:31, the Sacred Writer made this stunning observation: “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” God saw his creation as good, and he still sees it as good, even if it needs redemption. Before Adam saw Eve, God had seen her, as good. Corrupted by sin, human sight struggles to see good. Not only that. Humans also struggle to see mercifully. Because of our own sin, we tend to see sin in others and look at them as not good. Our eyes see sinful people and hasten to condemn. To fully reflect the character of God, human beings must pray for the eyes of mercy, the very eyes of Jesus Christ.
There is something about the eyes of God that sets them apart from ours. Our eyes are quick to judge the sinner and slow to show mercy. By contrast, God’s eyes are slow to judge and quick to show mercy. Consider the frustration of the prophet Habakkuk. He was fed up with seeing injustice and violence. He thought that God whose eyes were even purer should be the first to see evil and deal with the perpetrators of evil: “Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil, and the sight of misery you cannot endure. Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one more just than himself?” (Hab 1:13). The answer is: eyes of mercy. Indeed, Habakkuk is right. God’s eyes are too pure that he cannot (or should not) look upon iniquity. Yet, Habakkuk also needs to realize that God’s eyes are eyes of mercy, and that allows him to “look upon” evil. God does not simply see evil. More importantly, he sees people he loves, people who bear his very image, who commit evil. That is an important difference to keep in mind. If God’s eyes were just too pure and not at the same time too merciful, the pure light from his eyes would have consumed us in an instant.
The Book of Wisdom (found in the Catholic Bible) captures this character of God so beautifully: “Indeed, before you the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all . . . you overlook the sins of men that they may repent . . . For you love all things that are . . . you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls” (Wisdom 11:22-23, 24, 26).
When God sent his Son into the world, the eyes of mercy became even more tangible. The eyes of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, are eyes of mercy, not of condemnation. Like many others in the Gospel, Zachaeus saw mercy in Jesus’s eyes and was saved. In Luke 19:1-10, we learn of the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zachaeus. This man was a chief tax collector, and therefore, a chief sinner. No pious Jew would want to be associated with this sinner. We are told that Jesus offered to be Zachaeus’ guest. This must have surprised Zachaeus as much as did the onlookers. The people grumble. Jesus stays focused. Repentant, Zachaeus stands his ground. What is happening? When Jesus saw Zachaeus, he did not see condemnation. He saw a chance for mercy. He saw a chance for repentance. While others saw a chance for judgment, rebuke, and rejection, Jesus saw a chance for mercy and salvation. It’s all about the eyes of Jesus, those eyes of mercy which cast a gentle yet powerful glance upon poor Zachaeus. Those eyes were gentle to welcome the sinner, and powerful to invite him to repentance. In the midst of the people’s grumbling, Zachaeus must have seen a difference in Jesus’s eyes which gave him confidence to remain firm. What a difference! Eyes that judge and condemn against eyes that show mercy! Eyes that see a chance for destruction against eyes that see a chance for restoration! Jesus is ultimately proud to call Zachaeus “a descendant of Abraham” (cf. Luke 19:9).
Two lessons here: First, no matter how messy you think your life is, there is hope for you. That hope is the eyes of Jesus, those eyes of mercy. Like Zachaeus, you may be a “sinner-in-chief.” But also keep in mind that Jesus is your Savior, not your accuser. Take a moment, and look into his eyes. What do you see? Mercy, mercy, and mercy! Second, try to see others with the eyes of mercy, not of disgust and condemnation. When you see a sinner, see a chance for mercy. Begin to see others differently, as Jesus sees them.
Invitation to pray:
Dear Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. Forgive me for the times I have looked on others in condemnation. Cleanse me in your Blood. Anoint me with your Holy Spirit. Look on me with your eyes of mercy and I will be saved. I ask you to give me new eyes to see others the way you see them, in a merciful way. Thank you for answering my prayer. Amen.