THE SUNDAY GOSPEL: THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
Luke 19:1 – 10
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“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.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
PASTOR’S REFLECTION by Father Mike Joly: THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
“The Definition of Futility: Climbing a Tree In An Attempt to Avoid Being Saved”
People go to great lengths in order to experience salvation; and people also go to great lengths, attempting to avoid being saved. Which are you?
On the positive side, people who exert their spiritual potential in order to experience something of Christ now and to taste a bit of salvation actually look for Christ. They see Him in their own human dignity. They understand the holy gift of their physical bodies, their human sexuality. They grasp the purpose and the beauty of the Sacraments which feed their souls. They are humbled and hungry before the Infinite God of the Universe who was “intending to pass” through human history and to sanctify it. They seek Him out in the infinite mysteries of the Holy Eucharist or in the holy mystery of marriage or in the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. These people who do not run FROM salvation but TOWARD it understand the passing and fleeting world that surrounds them. They do not attempt to evade Christ. That’s foolish and futile.
But Zacchaeus does attempt to evade Jesus. He IS foolish and futile. Zacchaeus is a Jew and a wealthy man, though somewhat despised because he served the Roman occupiers, taxing his compatriots. In the midst of this boisterous crowd, Zacchaeus is nonetheless a loner. And Jesus intends not only to pass by the crowd, but to pass right THROUGH Zacchaeus’ own heart, letting salvation sweeten this man’s life. Zacchaeus is a short man, hidden in the crowd. He attempts to see Jesus, and to avoid Jesus’ eyes, who was “intending to pass by.” Merely to catch a glimpse of the celebrity, and nothing more than that, Zacchaeus escaped the crowd to run ahead and climb a sycamore tree.
The large sycamore tree grows in the frost-free lowlands of the Mideast. It’s sometimes called the fig-mulberry. It has heart-shaped leaves and bears edible fruit. In the book of the Prophet Amos, (himself a dresser of sycamores) we learn that the ripening of this tree’s fruit can be accelerated by cutting into the fruit with a sharp knife. Its fruit becomes sweeter and more palatable when pierced (Am. 7:14).
It is this tree which the short Zacchaeus climbs to catch a glimpse of Jesus, a celebrity-seeking glimpse like one might seek of the Kardashians (a superficial California “reality” show). Zacchaeus is like many broken men today who think that they are in control and whose hearts have never accelerated in grace or strength or healing or holiness. A lot of men today are lacking in true manhood as fathers or husbands or sons, because salvation has not pierced and passed through their hearts in order to ripen them.
But it is Jesus who is in control; it is Jesus who is about to cut into the heart of Zacchaeus and accelerate the ripening of this man’s humanity. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). A name recognition followed by a command, followed by an urgency and finally the purpose.
Insert your own name instead of “Zacchaeus.” Listen to the Lord’s command to “Come down from there,” from whatever place in our lives we are attempting to avoid the Lord. Stop pretending in futility. Do it now, “immediately,” because time is unforgiving. The Lord intends to stay at our house. Salvation intends to cut open our hearts so that they ripen in a wonderful, beautiful, powerful awareness of God’s mercy at work in us as men, women, teens, children, families, human beings. This is Jesus’ purpose. “Today, salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9).