01 Nov Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Shawn Hughes
October 31, 2016
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
Throughout his gospel St. Luke highlights the merciful love of God. Jesus emphasizes that he had come to call, not the just, but sinners (cf. Luke 5:32). Zacchaeus is the chief publican, the chief tax collector. The publicans collected the taxes that the Jews had to pay to the Roman emperor, and for this reason they were hated and considered great public sinners because they profited from their position by extorting money from their own, from the Jewish people. Because of this Zacchaeus was very, very rich but deeply despised by his fellow citizens because of this collaboration with the hated Roman occupiers.
Imagine what was going on in Zacchaeus’ heart before he climbed that sycamore tree. It must have been quite a struggle – on one hand, a healthy curiosity and desire to know Jesus; on the other, the risk of appearing completely ridiculous because he was a public figure, a man of power. He knew that, in trying to climb that tree, he would have become a laughingstock to all. Yet he mastered his shame, his pride…because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful. You know what happens when someone is so attractive that we fall in love with them: we end up ready to do things we would never have even thought of doing before. Something similar took place in the heart of Zacchaeus, when he realized that Jesus was so important that he would do anything for him, since Jesus alone could pull him out of the mire of sin and discontent. The paralysis of shame did not have the upper hand. The Gospel tells us that Zacchaeus “ran ahead”, “climbed” the tree, and then, when Jesus called him, he “hurried down” (vv. 4, 6). He took a risk, he put his life on the line. For us too, this is the secret of joy: not to stifle a healthy curiosity, but to take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away. When it comes to Jesus, we cannot sit around waiting with arms folded; he offers us life – we can’t respond by just thinking about it! We need to act…to pick up that bible and read the gospels thoroughly. We need to spend time in prayer, actually communicating with the Lord.
We need to get to confession and humbly offer our faults to the Lord. We need to act…to respond to the need of those around us.
You and I are each called by God our second reading tells us…called by God to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Which means we are called to get to know him intimately in our sacramental practice, our scripture study, spiritual reading and prayer and to go out…to go out and tells others about him…inviting them to come and receive the joy we have received…But we first need to articulate the joy we have…Maybe even first realize that we have that joy…Then, and only then we need to speak of him to others…to risk, to get over our fear of being rejected…to go out like Zacchaeus…full of joy…and to mention him to our children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers who don’t come…to say to them “We have a great course here at St. Mary’s…the Alpha course and you should join us for a session in January…the whole point of it is for to get to know Jesus on a more profound level…Even to say…I’ll go with you!!! I’ll let my defences completely down and go with you.
When Jesus stopped and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house, he caused a major scandal. Maybe we need to cause a major scandal in the lives of those we should be inviting to join us here.
The Lord, however, knew exactly what he was doing. Zacchaeus, was deeply moved by Jesus’ visit. He decides to change his life, and promises to restore four times what he had stolen. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus says, and concludes: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus changed his life.
What is our fundamental attitude towards those who are lost? Do we seek to save those who we perceive are lost? Do we care about their salvation enough to reach out to them? Do we have missionary hearts.
Imagine what took place inside Zacchaeus’ house. It must have been quite a conversation for him to come out and promise to restore four times all that he had stolen. Or was it merely his encounter with Jesus Christ that transformed his heart. It must have been a very confessional encounter…a truly transformative encounter…
Are we open to having our hearts transformed in such a radical way? Have we spent enough time in the Lord’s presence, in prayer…to allow him to transform our heart?
Do our conversations with others that transform their hearts? Do people in our presence want to change their lives? This challenges me as strongly as challenges each and every one of you. My life obviously needs to be more Christ like, and all our lives need to be more Christ-like…if we are going to fill this cathedral…you probably laugh at such a suggestion…it is a real challenge…but a very great goal…and we can’t be satisfied until it is realized.
God excludes no one, neither the poor nor the rich. God does not let himself be conditioned by our human prejudices, but sees in everyone a soul to save and is especially attracted to those who are judged as lost and who think themselves so. Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God, has demonstrated this immense mercy, which takes nothing away from the gravity of sin, but aims always at saving the sinner, at offering him the possibility of redemption, of starting over from the beginning, of converting.
In a passage in Matthew’s gospel Jesus states that it is very difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 19:23). In the case of Zacchaeus we see that precisely what seems impossible actually happens: “He,” St. Jerome comments, “gave away his wealth and immediately replaced it with the wealth of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Homily on Psalm 83:3). And Maximus of Turin comments: “Riches, for the foolish, feed dishonesty, but for the wise they are a help to virtue; for the wise they offer a chance of salvation, for the foolish they are a stumbling block and procure perdition” (Sermon 95).
Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus and was transformed because Jesus first welcomed him!
Are we that welcoming here at St. Mary’s? So welcoming that someone actually feels welcomed. So welcoming that someone actually wants to join us. So welcoming that they actually want to come back to the faith they have abandoned. Through Alpha and everything else that goes on here we are slowly getting to know one another…call each other by name. When you see someone you don’t recognize do you actually go over and say: “My name is…Welcome to St. Mary’s!” Great if you do!!! If you don’t…why not???? My heart was deeply warmed when I spoke with someone this past week who has begun joining us here and they said: “I have found my spiritual home here.” Everyone should feel at home here.
Zacchaeus had to face the grumbling of the crowd, who first blocked him and then criticized him: How could Jesus have entered his house, the house of a sinner!
How truly hard it is to welcome Jesus, how hard it is to accept a “God who is rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4)! People out there will try to prevent it. They may laugh at you because you believe in the gentle and unassuming power of mercy. That day the crowd judged Zacchaeus; they mocked him. But Jesus did otherwise: he gazed up at him (v. 5). Jesus looks beyond the faults and sees the person. He does not halt before bygone evil, but sees future good.
We are called to see the future good of people. Love them as Jesus loved Zacchaeus…see their future good…not their past sins…reach out a hand of mercy to them…invite them to what they are missing here. Always inviting…never giving up!!! Gently, lovingly, humbly…
Pope Francis chose this gospel of Zacchaeus as the gospel for the closing Sunday Mass of the World Youth Days in Poland. He concluded his reflection on Zacchaeus’ transformed heart, and especially Zacchaeus’ joy, by challenging the young people: “The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give it away (cf. Mt 10:8): so many people are waiting for it!”
To you too I say: “the joy that you have received from God freely give it away…your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your colleagues at work…are waiting for it…freely give it away!”
Missionary disciples take Jesus to the world and they help the Zacchaeus’ of this world climb that sycamore tree, overcome their prejudices, their shame, their past…so that from that vantage point they can encounter the Lord Jesus, Himself. Full of Christ’s mercy and promise missionary disciples are beacons of hope, sharers in the love and mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to a waiting world that is actually hungry, searching…trying to find it everywhere but in the peace of Christ, which is beyond all understanding.
It is our joy in our transformed hearts that is convincing. It is our joy for which the world hungers. Do we really have it. Are we confident in it enough, courageous enough to take it to them?