3 November 201931 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
31 Ordinary Time
31 Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C
Luke 19:1-10

"A thing of beauty," wrote John Keats in Endymion in 1818, "is a joy forever."

Someone has written that as Christians we should love beauty. He went on to say that where beauty is apparent, we should enjoy it. Where beauty is hidden, we should unveil it. Where beauty is defaced, we should restore it. Where there is no beauty at all, we should create it.

The latter is exactly what Jesus did in today's Gospel. His subject was a crooked tax collector. With his help, the Christ turned him into an object of beauty. So effective was the transformation that the world has placed the former gangster Zacchaeus in the Hall of Fame. He will remain there until Jesus returns for us.

Imagine what the Christ might do with us if we allow Him. Frederick Buechner writes of Zacchaeus, "He climbs up a sycamore a crook and climbs down a saint." Why cannot something of the sort be said of our own selves?

Consider too that the Teacher does not have to do as much work with you as He had to do with Zacchaeus. The very fact that you are reading these lines indicates that, spiritually speaking, you are more than half way home. With a little more push, you can cease being a mediocre Christ-follower and become a fascinating one. What will you do? The response must be yours.

Peggy Noonan, the celebrated political writer, has written of a stained glass window in her parish church in New York City. It pictures the Teacher standing outside the door and knocking. But there is no door handle on His side. Rather, it is on the inside. It is the person within who must open the door and allow the Nazarene to enter. It is you who must turn that handle. This is what the Zacchaeus of today's Gospel did. Hopefully too you shall.

The Book of Revelation 3,30 puts all of us on notice. Patiently the Master waits for us to push open the door just as the mafioso Zacchaeus did here in Luke. "Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me."

Picture the scene. There was a small fellow decked out in custom tailored white toga and baby soft leather sandals from the finest boutiques on the Via Veneto in Rome. He had heard much about this Jesus from his clients before he relieved them of their wallets. He wanted to check the Prophet out for himself. Could He really be that good? The excited crowds lining the roads prevented him from seeing over their heads. He knew they would not break ranks to let the man, who took the eyes out of their head and told them they were born blind, to the curbside. Up that tree he shimmied. Then he climbed out on a limb. By this point, his toga was covered with tree sap. He hoped that the next few minutes were going to be worth one destroyed toga and scuffed sandals.

Finally Jesus is beneath the tree. Unaccountably He looks up. And with a hearty laugh He greets the thoroughly abashed Zacchaeus. He comes tumbling down out of the sycamore. He hears the still laughing Teacher say He is going to put up at his mansion. He suspects he has been had already.

He races ahead to his home. He wants the meal to be worthy of a five star hotel. His wife, who tradition says was named Veronica, sensed a mighty change in her man. Never had he stayed away so long from his money bags. She attributed it to this much discussed Rabbi.

You know the rest of this much told tale. Zacchaeus was swept off his feet. He was born again. The old Zacchaeus was left stone cold dead in the market.

There is a centuries old legend that Zacchaeus became the Bishop of Caesarea in northwestern Palestine. A tradition says that his wife Veronica in a week's time would courageously step out of a crowd crying for blood on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Boldly she would sponge the bruised and cut face of the Man responsible for her husband's new life with her veil.

Both husband and wife climbed out on a thin limb for the Master. Will you be as equally bold?

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
31 Ordinary Time
Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time: Tax Collector Pt 2–Our Response to Mercy

This Sunday we are once more presented with a tax collector receiving the mercy of God. Last week you might remember we had the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the Temple. This one is that short man named Zacchaeus.

In the New Testament, tax collectors are lumped together with prostitutes and other sinners. Why? Why did Jesus and all the Jews consider tax collectors sinners? They were sinners because they collaborated with Rome. They used the power of Rome to steal from their own people. They became rich without doing anything more than sitting behind a table imposing taxes on their fellow Hebrews. The way taxes worked in the Roman Empire was that the Romans enlisted the help of locals offering them a lucrative living for collaboration. Their salaries actually came from their own people. The tax collector got a percentage of the tax, so he would set as high amount of tax as possible. If anyone protested, well, behind the tax collector's table there was a cohort of Roman soldiers to keep the peace as the tax collector, if you excuse my pun, took his piece. So a tax collector was a thief, and worse than a thief, he used the hated Romans to steal from his own people.

The tax collector in last Sunday's parable knew he was a sinful man, and stood in the back of the Temple praying, "Lord, have mercy on me a sinner." That was quite different than the prayer of the Pharisee who was in the Temple to remind the Lord what a great guy he was. In last week's parable, the tax collector left the Temple in the embrace of the Lord.

Today, we have Tax Collector Part II. This tax collector is not a person from a parable but a real life man named Zacchaeus. He was curious, but he was also short. He couldn't see Jesus, so he climbed that sycamore tree to get a better look. He must have been shocked that Jesus would call him out of the tree and tell him that he would eat at his house that evening. Having a meal with someone is a gesture of friendship, even more, it is a gesture of intimacy. The Lord wanted to be part of Zacchaeus' life. Many people grumbled at that, but Zacchaeus, the little man, stood his ground and gave half of what he had to the poor, promising to repay fourfold those he had cheated.

Zacchaeus responded to the mercy he had received. How have we responded to the mercy of God we have received in our lives? Do we take it for granted and go on with our lives continuing to sin, or do we really try to change our lives? Saying, "I'm sorry," and seeking mercy is good, but only if we intend to respond to the mercy we receive.

A number of years ago a young couple came to see me who had a problem in their marriage. The problem was that the husband kept misbehaving, spending money foolishly, not coming home when he said he would, not carrying his part of the household load, etc. After the wife had her say, I asked him if he had anything he'd like to add or subtract. He said, "But I always tell her I'm sorry." She said, "Yes, he does, but he is not serious about being sorry. He just says the words and then continues doing these things."

You see, it is not enough to say that we are sorry and receive forgiveness. We have to do all we can to change our actions. When we say the act of contrition, we express our determination to amend or change our lives. Sometimes, when I say to the Lord, "I'm trying," I hear Him say to me, "Well, try harder."

There are times that we treat the sacrament of Penance like a car wash. Get in, get washed, get out and don't worry about getting dirty again. Pope Francis said that there are no limits to God's mercy. The only limits are the ones that we put on his mercy. Sometimes those limits are refusing to ask for mercy. Sometimes those limits are refusing to respond to mercy.

There are times that all of us are upset with ourselves for our own refusal to respond to the Lord's mercy. Instead of changing our lives, we transfer our upset onto others. We use our view of their foibles and their sins as a way of hiding our own sins. That is why that instead of responding to the mercy we have received by being merciful to others, we behave like the man in another parable who had a huge debt forgiven but who refused to forgive the small amount another man owed him. That man would have been more merciful if only he had worked hard to fight sin in his own life. We all would be more understanding of others, if only we would put up a serious fight against sin in our own lives.

When the Lord entered Zacchaeus' home, Zacchaeus said, "Things have got to change." That's the reaction we have to have when we realize the "all-surpassing good we have been granted in Jesus Christ," to paraphrase St. Paul. Things have go to be different. We have to fight sin. We have to embrace the Lord. Our avoidance of immorality, our decision to bring prayer into our homes, and our determination to make choices that may not be popular with others are all part of our decision to be different, our decision to be holy.

Tax Collector, Part 2, the story of Zacchaeus, challenges us to respond to the Lord's mercy by waging war against sin in our own lives.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
31 Ordinary Time
Zacchaeus, Come Down Quickly

(November 3, 2019)
Bottom line: In Zacchaeus we see the key steps of discipleship.

You might remember in June when we heard Jesus was "resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem." The literal Greek says, "he set his face to Jerusalem". We've been on a five month road trip with Jesus: teaching, healing, driving out demons and, above all, making disciples.

In today's Gospel Jesus is passing through Jericho - a crossroads town about 17 miles northeast of Jerusalem. He meets a man who will sum up what it means to become a disciple.

He's a little man named Zacchaeus - the chief tax collector of that bustling town. As you can imagine, Zacchaeus would be reluctant to go out into a crowd. Everyone scorns and judges him. Still, he wants to see Jesus. So he climbs a sycamore - a kind of fig tree with low branches. St. Augustine speculates that the tree has a reference to the cross - the tree Jesus would climb to bring salvation.

At any rate, from the sycamore tree Zacchaeus looks down on the crowd and on Jesus himself. Zacchaeus has spent his life looking down on others. He's richer than all of them.

Jesus sees him and says, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly." To meet Jesus we must come down. Like the Shaker hymn, "'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be"

When Zacchaeus comes down, Jesus does something unexpected, even shocking. "Today," Jesus says, "I must stay a your house." When we meet Jesus, when we accept him into our lives, he enters our home. Not the front yard, not the porch, but he enters our home. If Sister Carmen or I - or someone who represents the parish - blesses a home, we go into every room. Jesus wants to protect and govern every aspect of our lives.

That rule includes our possessions: my iPhone, my computer, my refrigerator, my car. Zacchaeus says, "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."

On our journey to Jerusalem money has come up a number of times, for example: the parables of the rich fool, the dishonest steward, Lazarus and the rich man. Even though Jesus himself had no place to lay his head and his disciples carried no money bags, still Jesus had a lot to say about money. He warns money can easily take the place of God. "You cannot serve God and mammon." After encountering Jesus, Zacchaeus stops putting money first. He puts God first.

In Zacchaeus we see the key steps of discipleship: 1) Curiosity - he wants to see Jesus. 2) Humility - "come down quickly" 3) Openness - he allows Jesus to enter his home, every aspect of his life. 4) Service: He no longer serves money, but uses money to serve God.

With Zacchaeus we circle back to prayer - intimacy with God in Jesus: Thank, Ask, Repent and Praise. Before meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus lived in isolation - alienated from God and from his own people. Like Zacchaeus we welcome God into lives - by prayer, especially the Mass. And Jesus says, "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."

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
31 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
31 Ordinary Time
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

We have for our Gospel reading today the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector who was so short that he had to climb up a tree to get a better view of Jesus as he was passing by. Everyone including Zacchaeus himself is completely surprised when Jesus announces that he intends to stay at Zacchaeus' house that day.

They were all astonished because Zacchaeus was a tax collector and was therefore someone who was widely despised. At that time Jericho, where he lived, was a very prosperous town which was at the centre of the trade in balsam. As a senior tax collector resident in Jericho Zacchaeus would undoubtedly have been a very wealthy man.

Tax collectors in those days were employed by the Roman occupiers under a kind of franchise system where they got a percentage of whatever taxes they could collect. This would mean that the better Zacchaeus was at his job then the wealthier he would be. This was also a reason why tax collectors were invariably disliked since it was in their interests to screw as much tax out of everyone that they could.

As far as the Jews were concerned, all tax collectors were public sinners because they were raising money for the Roman occupiers and as such they were utterly disliked and disapproved of by everyone. This explains why the people were outraged and accused Jesus of going to eat at the house of a sinner. Talking to a tax collector might be unavoidable but going to eat with one meant treating them as a close friend and signalled that you approved of their behaviour.

At the beginning of the story it says that Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. Now there are all kinds of trees and some of them are much easier to climb than others. Ask any small boy and he will tell you that the sycamore tree is definitely one of the most difficult to climb since it has very few branches and those that it does have tend to be far above the ground as well as being rather smooth and not very easy to grip on.

Somehow this small man gets up the tree because he wants to see Jesus. His effort was surely a measure of the greatness of his desire to see Jesus who looks into his heart and recognises that Zacchaeus is at a turning point in his life. By expressing the wish to eat with Zacchaeus Jesus tips the balance and as a direct result Zacchaeus spontaneously repents of his sins and offers to make quadruple restitution to those he has wronged. We don't get the reaction of the crowd to this extraordinary statement of Zacchaeus but they must have been nonplussed since they would have regarded him as a confirmed sinner and would most likely treat his conversion with a high degree of scepticism.

There is no more recorded in the Gospels about Zacchaeus and this surely indicates that his conversion was indeed a sincere one. There are later Christian traditions which say that he took the name Matthias and was the one chosen as an Apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. Another tradition says that he became the first Bishop of Caesarea. Whatever the truth of these stories it seems extremely likely that Zacchaeus did indeed make a sincere conversion and fulfilled his promises to make restitution to anyone he had swindled.

The point is that it is a wonderful story of repentance. It shows once again how Jesus could look into a person's heart and draw out the very best in them. It shows also that often the desire for repentance is something that is present in most people but that it often needs the right sort of intervention to bring it to the surface.

One of the remarkable things about this account in the Gospels is the extraordinary statement by Zacchaeus, 'If I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.' Repaying those one has defrauded is one thing, but to repay four times the amount is something exceptional.

One of the jobs a priest has in the confessional is to deal with this specific question, that of restitution. Often people come and confess sins of theft or fraud and think that once the sin is forgiven then all has been put right. But this is not the case.

When we steal from someone we are obliged to confess the sin but we are equally obliged to make restitution to them. Having someone else's money rattling around in our pocket would not be a true sign of contrition. We are morally obliged to restore the losses that have been suffered by our victim. Anything less than this would indicate a lack of true repentance.

Of course there are some circumstances where we could be exempt from this requirement especially if it meant incriminating ourselves or causing an over-reaction or indeed if we were simply unable to pay up. In these cases the priest might recommend that a similar amount of money could be given to some worthy cause so that we did not personally gain by our sin and at least some benefit could result. Or it could be decided that the loss would be repaid over a long period of time. This is one of the reasons why we need to confess our sins to a priest since he is uniquely qualified to advise us on the right course of action depending on the circumstances.

There are many things to consider. One of them is whether the loss would disadvantage our victim considerably or not. There is a difference, for example, between stealing from a very poor person and defrauding a similar sum in taxes. The difference lies in the fact that the poor person would be disproportionally disadvantaged by the theft. Any loss that they incurred would cause them a greater degree of suffering than that to the more nebulous government income tax department. This does not mean that failing to pay taxes is a trivial matter. Both are serious but the suffering caused is greater in the case of a poor person whom we have defrauded.

Any penitent has the duty to make restitution for unfair gains they have made as a result of sin. This is something often neglected or unforeseen by those who come to confess their sins but it is an important aspect of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the sacrament the priest has several roles; he is to listen, he is to mediate mercy and he is to forgive sins, these are obvious. Less obvious is that he has sometimes to act as a judge and the determination of how restitution is to be made and in what amount is certainly an important aspect of this role.

Zacchaeus offers to pay four times the amount. He could probably have afforded it and he wants to demonstrate to Jesus the depth of his conversion. What we are required to do is simply where possible to restore to other people what we have unjustly removed from them. This is justice; this is our Christian duty; this is the basic requirement which demonstrates our true desire for repentance.
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