Note to my followers: if you have not read the homily for the Feast of All Saints on Nov. 1st please click on the feast and Holy Days icon on the menu bar and scroll down to the Feast of All Saint 19 and click on that link.
C Cycle – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
The Roman’s were an occupying force in ancient Israel’s and were brutal in their imposing their will on the Jews. One of the things they insisted was the citizens of Israel pay a tax to the emperor. That tax was collected, not by the Roman’s, but by fellow Jews recruited by the Romans to do whatever it took to collect the tax.
Their reward for working for the Romans was financial for they could collect as much as possible over the required tax and all that gain was theirs. Zacchaeus the central figure in today’s gospel became a wealthy man by extracting more than the tax required. However, because Zacchaeus and other tax collectors were imposing the will of the Romans on their fellow citizens they were hated and ostracized for collaborating with the enemy. They became outcast and were labeled sinners and were to be avoided socially.
The story of Zacchaeus is a key story in the scriptures because it reveals to us exactly why God has given us the scriptures. The scriptures are God’s revelation of Himself and it clearly shows us how are to respond to God’s gift of mercy. Our problem is we do not read the scriptures to discover either of those two things. My inner self cringes when well-meaning Catholic’s say the bible is Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. It is more than an instruction manual; it is more than a guide. It is the revelation of God’s plan for us and the scriptures invite us to respond.
This story of Zacchaeus is our story and God is telling us what He will do if we respond to His gift of Jesus Christ.
Did you ever consider what motivated Zacchaeus to enter the crowd of people who despised him? To understand what God is revealing to us we must turn to the scriptures for revelation not instruction. We must listen with open hearts to hear what Zacchaeus heard from the words and actions of Jesus. Jesus said this to him and to us: “I will draw all to myself.”
Zacchaeus even though he was isolated from other Jews would have heard about Jesus. He would have heard about the woman caught in adultery and how Jesus did not condemn her. He would have heard about the man born blind and how Jesus said it was not sin that caused his blindness. Zacchaeus had to encounter Jesus himself for inside himself, Zacchaeus was a lonely, sad man who needed forgiveness for his willingness to seek wealth at the expense of his fellow Jews.
He was motivated by the hope that Jesus was offering everyone a new life if only they responded to His invitation to follow Him. Because he was short, he would have had to find a way to get ahead of the crowd so he could be in the front row Jesus passed by. Obviously, he could not find a way to the front of the crowd but because Zacchaeus was determined to see Jesus, he climbed a tree.
We know wherever Jesus went large crowds gathered around Him. We do not know how many people lined the streets that day, but we do know is Jesus looks directly at Zacchaeus and calls out to him, “come down for today I must stay at your house.” We have heard those words of Jesus in other places in the scriptures, “lo I stand at the door and knock, if you but open I will come in and dine with you” (Rev. 3:20). Notice, Jesus knew him by name, even though He had never had any contact with Zacchaeus before. Again, these are words we have heard before: I know the hairs on your head; I know when you stand and when you sit. God knows us intimately and still we hide from Him.
Imagine the outrage from the righteous ones. We hear it in their grumbling, He is going to stay at the house of a sinner. Keep in mind that the Levitical law states, one becomes unclean by entering the house of a sinner. Why would Jesus break the law and risk becoming unclean? Why? The answer to that is the key to understanding the heart of God. God will make us clean if we only accept the invitation to allow him to enter under our roofs and allow Him to come into our hearts. What was impure will become pure not by our doing but by His grace.
But note the response of Zacchaeus and note his response came before Jesus ever entered His house. Zacchaeus was changed the minute he accepts Jesus into his life. Zacchaeus left the tree, went through the stunned crowd and said,” 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.” Just by saying yes to the invitation, Zacchaeus’ heart was changed.
It is so simple, and we like the Pharisees cannot grasp the plan of God to restore us by the simple act of embracing Jesus Christ. We want to make sure we do something to earn the gift. What did Jesus demand of Zacchaeus? Nothing other than he come down from the tree and stand before Jesus and accept His invitation to enter his home.
Come Lord Jesus come into my heart and come where I live and give me the courage to embrace you. All I did in the past is gone and all my future lies ahead of me if only I have the courage to seek you above all things. If only I ignore the restrictions, I put on myself and others put on me because they cannot forgive my past.
This gospel story ends with a statement we must allow to penetrate our hearts. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.
The only question we must answer is are we going to be like Zacchaeus and do everything to help Jesus find us or are we going to continue to be Pharisees and remain fixed on a concept that tells us we must do something to be worthy of God’s grace. The truth is there are none of us worthy of the gift of forgiveness.