Text of Homilies > 2010 Homilies
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
October 31, 2010
One of my favorite pictures of my dad is a black and white photo that was taken in the late 40’s or early 50’s. It was a picture of him with my grandparents, along with my Uncle Paul and Aunts Rita and Marie. The whole family was spending a day at the beach. The picture represented a brief moment in time, and I often look at that picture and imagine what they were doing that led up to the picture and what happened after the picture was taken. That is, what was the rest of the story of that day at the beach? The picture doesn’t tell.
Today’s Gospel also presents us with a picture, this one in words rather than a photo. And there is more to this story than what we see in black and white. The two main characters in this picture are Jesus and Zacchaeus of Jericho.
As we explore the rest of the story, we know that Jesus was traveling throughout Judea and Galilee, headed eventually to Jerusalem. His mission, actions and interactions are well documented across the four Gospels.
But, what of Zacchaeus? Well, St Luke tells us that he was the chief tax collector in the area and a wealthy man. We know that being a tax collector was ugly work in the eyes of the Jews; and Zacchaeus was their boss. Tax Collectors worked for the Roman captors – that was bad enough. But they also were known to collect more taxes than were due in order to fill their own pockets. No doubt Zacchaeus took a little off the top from each of his tax collectors and thus the source of his wealth. In other words, Zacchaeus demonstrated little concern for Mosaic Law or much loyalty or concern for his own people. We can infer from this that he was not a popular person in the community. We can further infer that this did not appear to bother him that much…
But, things are seldom as they seem, as we shall see.
Now, we enter the picture. Zacchaeus is interested in seeing Jesus; we are not told why. We do know that because of his short stature, he would have been unable to see Jesus because of the crowd.
Zacchaeus decides to climb a tree to be able to see Jesus. Somehow, none of us who read this story seem very surprised at a grown man climbing a tree. [I don’t know why this is, actually. Somehow, we just accept it.] Then, as now, it was strange behavior. So, imagine the sight as people began seeing Zacchaeus in this tree – you just imagine comments. No one liked him to begin with because he constantly place himself above the community. Now he climbs a tree to do the same thing.
So, here he is, sitting in this tree and Jesus walks by. Jesus calls Zacchaeus down and invites Himself to his house. Again, in today’s world, we seem desensitized to Jesus’ actions. But the others who were there were appalled that Jesus, the great master teacher and prophet, would associate with such an unclean person.
As we look beyond the picture, we begin to understand that many other things were going on here. First, it is not unreasonable to believe that Zacchaeus was beginning to recognize that there was more to his life than wealth. His readiness to accept the call of Jesus was not so much miraculous as the result of reflection and discernment on his part. Just the fact that he was there, and would go to such lengths just to see Jesus, is an indication this man who had little respect for anything in his life, save money, was showing signs of being deeper than most others in his community gave him credit for.
And, what does Jesus do? He takes an ordinary moment, in the life of an ordinary man, and changes it by His presence. First, He picks Zacchaeus out of the crowd – OK, not that hard because he was sitting in a tree. And then Jesus does what God does always – He called him by name: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly.” Zacchaeus came, repented and by his action, brought salvation – forgiveness and grace – to his house.
The story of Zacchaeus of Jericho is not just about a conversion, but more about how conversion happens. Notice that God, then as now, selected an ordinary person, not a saint; in fact, far from it. And the conversion happened in the ordinary moments of an ordinary day. God works through the ordinary. The key to the conversion of Zacchaeus was his readiness and openness to hear and respond to the call of God in his life. We can see in retrospect that nothing that happened was an accident or coincidence. By his decisions, Zacchaeus placed himself directly in the path of God: not only his decision to show up, but his decision to climb up. By following the inspiration to do what he did, he positioned himself to be called by God.
This story helps us to see clearly how God acts in our lives. Each of us have had moments where we recognize the presence of God in our lives. Those unpredictable moments that stand out, where we know that God is there, is real. We may push it aside, deny the experience, rationalize somehow that it could not be what we know it was. But it did happen.
Today’s world is full of chaos and noise: The perfect place to hide from God. Some people get to Mass late – or skip it all together – so we do not need to be in God’s presence; yet God doesn’t leave us. Others leave immediately after Communion, not wanting to spend time in silent prayer recognizing God’s direct and physical presence in our lives; still, God is with us. We would rather spend hours in front of the TV, computer, iPod, than minutes in prayer; and still, God is around. We pray by necessity, not out of desire or respect; no matter, God still is present.
The story of Zacchaeus is one that demonstrates that God calls us from where we are. His love is powerful and persistent; we cannot avoid it, though we may deny it. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health; for richer or poorer, God remains ever vigilant, calling us by name. Continually giving us opportunities to respond, just like Zacchaeus.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we have the choice of if, when and how to respond to God’s call. When we begin to recognize the presence of God in our lives, we also begin to prepare our hearts to hear and respond to His call.
The call is different for each one of us, but it is no less persistent. Our response to God’s call requires us to be fully present in our lives, open to the many ways and people God uses to show us His presence and love.
Zacchaeus’ response was not miraculous, nor was Jesus’ call. In fact, it was the most ordinary and normal experience a human being can have when we suddenly recognize the love of the Creator in our lives. The Gospel simply calls it, ‘joy’.