4 November 2007, XXXI Sunday of the Year

Wis. 11:22-12:2; 2 Thess. 1:11-2:2; Lk. 19:1-10

Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” Imagine Jesus saying to each one of us, “I must stay at your house today.” What would be our reaction?

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke tells us that the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Because such a conversion can only result from the love and grace of a merciful Lord. Through Jesus’ ongoing noble act of saving sinners, the Heavenly Father is continuously glorified.

The story of Zacchaeus is one of our favorite stories and I suspect it still is a favorite with every kid who has ever felt small or out of it and ends up, instead, being the centre of attention.  But Luke didn’t write it for children.  He wrote it because what happened in Jericho that day was what was happening in his own church fifty years later just as it is, no doubt, what is happening, even today.

When Jesus entered Jericho, He came upon Zacchaeus who was a rich and a chief tax collector. Most likely, Zacchaeus, like other tax collectors, was a dishonest man and therefore hated by all. Over and above collecting his quota that had to be remitted to the state, he surcharged the poor and pocketed the extra money that he collected. As a tax collector and he was very rich. He perhaps was like a local don, in charge of all tax collectors and having the highest Roman contacts.

 Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus was coming and out of curiosity, he wanted to see Him. He was one of those persons who wanted to be in the limelight and receive attention. There weren’t enough people to give it to him because of his office.  Now with the large crowd that was present and Zacchaeus being a short man, it was rather difficult for him to get a glimpse of Jesus. He was also careful not be beaten in the crowd as some mischievous elements who could take advantage of the situation. In his determination to see what Jesus looked like he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree.  He had no trouble climbing because the sycamore tree has a short trunk and wide sideways branches that made it easy to climb.

It was then that Jesus spotted him, maybe dangling there over a limb, looking ridiculous, desperate just to see.  “Zacchaeus,” said Jesus, “get down out of there in a hurry.  I’m coming to your house to spend the night with YOU!”  He was so astonished by what Jesus had to say that he literally lost his grip of the branch, to become the disciple of Jesus.  He hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus.” What an expression of joy.  But this was not appreciated by his followers. He going to the house of a sinner, something a Rabbi could not afford to do. Jesus cares for nothing of this. He wants a person return to God. There is the humility and prayerful attitude of Zacchaeus that is visible.

Every one speaks of a curious practice in Vienna. There in the church the deceased members of the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, were buried. When the royal funeral processions arrived at the church, the mourners would knock at the door and ask to be allowed in. A priest inside would ask, “Who is it that desires admission here?” The mourners would call out, “His apostolic majesty, the emperor.” The priest would then respond, “I don’t know him.” Then the mourners would knock a second time, and the priest would again ask who was there. The mourners would repeat, “The highest emperor,” and would receive the same response from the priest. On the third knock and question from the priest, the mourners would reply, “A poor sinner, your brother” — and the funeral procession was allowed to enter. In today’s parable, Jesus reminds us that a humble acknowledgement of our sinfulness is the first condition for the efficacy of our prayers.

Jesus accepts the tax collector in his humility. What followed was a total human change of heart. By the grace of God, Zacchaeus repented of his sins. He said to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Four times was the restitution made by a robber and Zacchaeus accepts his fault and repents. Following this personal commitment, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house “and not to him alone but for all who repent. The conclusion! “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Zacchaeus was a sinner. By the grace of God, he repented and welcomed Jesus in his home. Through Christ, he was saved.  Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist we have received the Divine Presence of the Lord Jesus within us. And “if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.”  If we invite him he will stay with us. When God lives in us, His glory is manifested through the fruit of His grace. He invited Himself into our homes and we have welcomed Him. For those of us who have received God in our homes, let us be thankful to the Lord for coming to us.
As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for those who do not have the indwelling of the Lord God in their homes. Let us ask the Lord to reach out to these souls so that they too may partake in the universal salvation plan of God.

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