31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2; Ps 145; II Thessalonians 1: 11 – 2:2; Luke 19: 1 – 10
The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is a litany of God’s mercy; in this litany we heard: “You spare all things because they are Yours, O Lord, lover of souls.” In Psalm 145 the psalmist prayed: “The Lord is good to all and compassionate…” St. Paul writes: “That our God may make you worthy of His calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.”
All these truths are present in the Gospel. If we were to reduce this Gospel of St. Luke to just an interesting or touching story, then we will have treated God’s Word poorly and have missed truth. This passage of the encounter between Jesus and a tax collector is a proclamation of God’s mercy and compassion; it was not a chance encounter because in God’s world, our world, there is no such thing as chance. What happened between Jesus and Zacchaeus is the Good News for all.
Zacchaeus, moved by curiosity and hampered by his stature, climbs a tree just to see this Jesus he has heard about. Jesus, on His journey to Jerusalem, is just passing through Jericho but He looked up and saw Zacchaeus. Surely, the look was accompanied with a smile, perhaps even a good laugh! This man, the wealthy chief tax collector, hated by the Romans because he is a Jew and hated by his own people because he worked for the Romans had to be overwhelmed that this famous worker of miracles noticed him. And then, the invitation: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for I must stay at your house.” Notice: not I would like to stay but I must stay. I imagine the descent from his perch was the fastest act ever done by this man.
Perhaps, this tax collector had few true guests at his house – the Romans came to get their money and the Jews came to haggle, complain about the tax. No sooner had Zacchaeus descended and the crowd reacted: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” Zacchaeus hears them and does not deny being a sinner but he does tell Jesus, without boasting, how he tries to be generous and honest, even to a fault.
Jesus, gazing upon him, affirms this good man: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.” And don’t you think that Zacchaeus’ heart swelled and there might have been a tear or two. What happened was totally unexpected and never to be forgotten – and it hasn’t through the Gospel of St. Luke.
What is being addressed to us, each one of us, in this graced encounter of the Savior and the chief tax collector?
His words to us carry the same import as those spoken to Zacchaeus. “Today, I come to stay with you.” It means nothing to Him of how others regard us or how we regard ourselves. In our hearts, we might say, “But, Lord, I am a sinner” but this reality does not keep Him from His desire to stay with us, to abide within us. We heard this in the Book of Wisdom: “But You have mercy on all…and You overlook peoples’ sins that they may repent.”
In our hearts, we might say, “Lord, I fail often but I do try to live as a Christian.” And the Lord might say to us, “Remember the words of St. Bernard: ‘We are people more of desire than achievement’.” God sees most clearly the desires of our hearts even in our failings. With that there is always hope, there is grace of peace. And this means there is life, God’s life in us.
With all our humanness, with all our failings, with all our desires to live as men and women who belong to the Lord, He affirms us, “Today salvation comes to you – in this celebration of Word and Sacrament – because you too are a descendant of Abraham, your father in faith.”
We might question the Lord: “Why do you want to stay with me?” He gives us the answer, “I seek you as My own and I desire to keep you from being lost.” “Lost to what, Lord?” “Lost to Me!”
In this Mass we have heard His Sacred Word and in this Mass we see and will receive Him in the Holy Eucharist so that you and I will come down from our tree of uncertainty, of doubt, of fear, of regret and receive the Lord with joy. Because the Lord desires that for us with passion.