Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine's flesh. But he, welcoming death with honour rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
"Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, " he said, "for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws."
When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: "It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him." So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
How many are my foes, O Lord!
How many are rising up against me!
How many are saying about me:
'There is no help for him in God.' (R./)
But you, Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, who lift up my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord.
He answers from his holy mountain. (R./)
I lie down to rest and I sleep.
I wake, for the Lord upholds me.
I will not fear even thousands of people
who are ranged on every side against me. (R./)
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
This story about Zacchaeus offers a central insight into the aims of Jesus. He understook his mission as "to seek out and save what was lost." Perhaps that saying can be reinterpreted to tell us that we cannot be found unless we know ourselves to be. Unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.
To be found by Jesus, Zacchaeus had to be willing give up a lot. He set aside his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then promised that most of his wealth would go in paying back those he had defrauded. Not only the tax-collector but Jesus too was willing to risk his reputation as a man of God by dining at the home of such a notorious sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was the chief tax-collector of Jericho, a city through which many pilgrims passed on their way to festivals in the Jerusalem temple. Jericho funneled all the taxes of Jews coming from the East towards Jerusalem.
When Jesus came to where the little tax-collector was perched, up in the sycamore tree, he looked up and shouted, "Hurry on down!" for he had seen a spirit of true repentance in the heart of Zacchaeus. Indeed, his whole purpose in life was to search out and save what was lost.
Eleazar, in Maccabees, was called not to a change of lifestyle but to hand over his very life by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, and even at the point of death he declared his inner joy at staying true to the Lord God. Eleazar's martyrdom brought a blessing to his entire nation, leaving an unforgettable example of loyalty to what God required of them.
Zacchaeus was certainly was a seeker, a searcher. From the start he was anxious to see Jesus, and what kind of man he was. In his desire to see our Lord, he was ready to, quite literally, go out on a limb, the branch of a sycamore tree. This would have been an undignified thing for a man of his status. Zaccaeus goes to extravagant lengths to see Jesus, to come to know him. In the process he discovered that the one he wanted to meet was also searching for him. "I must stay at your house today," said the man whos purpose it was to seek out and to save the lost.
When we search for God we will find that God is also searching for us. When Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus to dine, he received an even greater hospitality, the hospitality of the mercy of God. Salvation came to his house, because he too was a child of Abraham. This tax-collector belonged to God's people and found a place at God's table, in spite of his past. Whenever we take a step towards the Lord, we discover that he was near us all the time.