The story of Zacchaeus is one of conversion. The acceptance and compassion of Christ who was willing to share a meal with him as one would do with a dear friend motivated him to change his life.
Tax collectors in the time of Jesus were one of the most hated groups in society. The Jewish population were under the occupation of the Roman Empire. Some Jews were employed as tax collectors. They were promised a life of comfort in exchange for collecting taxes from their own people. Therefore tax collectors were hated because they not only cheated their own people by charging more taxes than what they should have but also they committed the unpardonable sin of working on behalf of their oppressors. This was especially so in the case of Zacchaeus as he was a chief tax collector who was very rich as a result of his extensive ill gotten gains.
The change in his life commenced when he humbled himself to climb up a tree in order to see Jesus. It is his willingness to change that opens the pathway to salvation. His response of wanting to repay those he had cheated tells us what penance is all about. It is not a punishment but a response to the wonderful experience of being forgiven.
This story tells us two things. Firstly, that forgiveness is what God does. Secondly, conversion comes about when we are prepared to do something as a result of being forgiven. This Sunday we are invited to humble ourselves before God asking him to forgive us. What action do we need to take in order to not only be forgiven but also experience conversion through our willingness to make a change in our lives?