Homily – 31st Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Dear Friends, 

Here is Pastor Dick’s second homily in my absence–thank you Dick!–Pastor Kathy

Reflecting on Jesus’ words in Mathew’s Gospel, namely, “Every disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who draws out from his storage room, things both old and new,” Father Richard Rohr offered the following perspective in his daily meditation last Wednesday:

 “Christianity isn’t done growing and changing. Jesus himself invites us to take things out of our faith-filled “storage room” and discern what is essential. We don’t want the church or the Christian tradition to become an antique shop just preserving old things. We want to build on old things and allow them to be useful in different ages, vocabularies, and cultures. We want our faith to be ever new, so that it can speak to souls alive and in need right now! Otherwise, the faith we cherish so much stops working and it can’t do its job of turning our hearts to God and to one another.”

What Father Rohr said about Christian tradition was also true of Jewish tradition. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see how Israel’s understanding of our God evolved from a powerful but frightening force in their lives to a just but loving, merciful and caring presence.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom was written only about 50 years before Jesus. Listen again to its beautiful description of our God: “Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain in a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate….

But you spare all things because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

Let’s now consider how this view of God blends with today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel. 

First, Jesus seems not even to have intended to stop in Jericho on his way through the town to Jerusalem, but somehow word got spread around that he was going to come that way and people started gathering to see him. One of them was Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. He was wanting to see the man he had heard so much about. However, since he was a short man and couldn’t see over a crowd, he climbed a tree along the route. He literally went “out on a limb” without recognizing the symbolism of what he was doing.

His curiosity about Jesus and maybe some unrecognized hope deep within him, led him to take this awkward and isolated position, similar to the tax collector in last week’s Gospel who stood far apart from the Pharisee and simply begged for the mercy that he knew he didn’t deserve.

 Zacchaeus surely didn’t expect Jesus to look up just as he passed under his perch, just as Jesus had not planned to stop there. How did the shifty onlooker become the honored host? Perhaps, when Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, his heart went out to him. As Jim Hanzel pointed out in our Bible discussion on Wednesday, Jesus simply loved Zacchaeus–just as he was and clearly before Zacchaeus did anything to earn that love. 

Why did Luke (and, surprisingly, only Luke) tell this story? As Sister Mary McGlone, a Sister of St, Joseph, wrote her commentary about this Gospel in NCR last week, “Among the evangelists, Luke holds the prize for highlighting the poor with their blessedness in God’s eyes and for underlining the moral indictment their poverty brings against society.” Why then did Luke tell this story about Zacchaeus, a wealthy man? 

Maybe Luke wanted us to realize that there are many ways to be poor. Although Zacchaeus was wealthy man, as the chief tax collector, for all the reasons I described last week he was despised and viewed as a sinner.

As when Jesus saw the precarious position Zacchaeus had put himself in just to get a glimpse of Jesus, Jesus invited him to take the next step. In receiving Jesus into his home, Zacchaeus accepted this outreach of love. Luke quotes Zacchaeus’ conversation with Jesus to show the impact of love (grace) on this man: Zacchaeus said, ‘I give half of my belongings to the poor. If I have short-changed anyone, I will repay him four-fold.” Although wealthy, Zacchaeus was willing to part with his wealth, to share it with the poor and to make up for his former unjust behavior. 

“What does this have to do with those of us who don’t expect Jesus to be walking down our streets anytime soon? Perhaps it means he may come in the form of a stranger. Perhaps it might be a homeless person whose outward appearance reflects his condition. It might be a distraught mother yelling at a non-compliant child. Maybe an overworked father worrying how to get enough money to meet his family’s needs. Maybe a troubled teenager feeling inadequate to cope with life’s demands on her. In fact, he is present to us in all of them–if we are aware and go out on a limb through faith to recognize him.

Whether rich or poor, Jesus loves us. But we must not let our possessions be more important than he is. They must not be a barrier to responding to the needs of the poor.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom calls God, “Lover of souls” whose “imperishable spirit is in all things.” May we go out on a limb through faith and be aware of his presence in our lives—and as with Zacchaeus, Jesus’ love for us, just as we are right now, is what overlooks our shortcomings and makes us worthy. His Spirit alive in us enables us to respond with surprised joy and gratitude to fulfill the Father’s will in our lives.

Again, as with Zacchaeus, Jesus invites each of us to come eat with him, right now in this meal. Yes, Jesus is eating with sinners, with us. But remember, Luke ends this story with Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” which explains what he is doing here.