17th November. Tuesday of Week 33.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, optional memorial
1st Reading: 2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Eleazar’s refusal to be disloyal to Yahweh gives an example of virtue for the whole nation
Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. But he, welcoming death with honour rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, ” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”
When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.” So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10
Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, to seek and save what was lost
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Being found by Jesus
The final Gospel verse can help us interpret many other stories about Jesus. His key mission was “to seek out and save what was lost.” Perhaps Jesus’ words can be turned around paradoxically, and rephrased to read: we cannot be found unless we lose ourselves; unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.
To be found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. He set aside his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then promised much of his wealth would go in paying back those he had defrauded. We should not how Jesus also set aside his dignity as a man of God by going to dine at the home of such a notorious sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was chief tax collector in the city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims passed on their way to festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.
When Jesus came to where Zacchaeus sat up in the sycamore tree, he looked up and called him, “Hurry on down!” — for he had seen a spirit of repentance in Zacchaeus’ heart. Indeed, “the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.”
In Eleazar’s case, he was called not just to a change of lifestyle but to hand over his life by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, for while dying, he expressed an inner joy because of his devotion to the Lord God. Eleazar’s martyrdom brought a blessing for the entire Jewish nation, leaving such an unforgettable example of loyalty to God.
Looking for Jesus
Whatever else about Zacchaeus, he certainly was a seeker, a searcher. The text says that “he was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was.” In his search to know Jesus, he was prepared, quite literally, to go out on a limb, the limb of a tree. This would have been considered a rather undignified place to be for a man of his status. Zaccaeus does something extravagant in order to see Jesus, to come to know him. In the course of his search he discovered that the one he was searching for was also searching for him. “I must stay at your house today,” said Jesus who came to seek out and to save the lost. Zacchaeus who was searching discovered that he was the object of a greater search. When Zacchaeus then offered Jesus hospitality, he also discovered that a greater hospitality was being offered to him, the hospitality of God through Jesus. “Today, salvation has come to his house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.” Jesus declared that this man belonged to God’s people; there was room for him at God’s table, in spite of the murmuring of the crowd. The story we have just heard reminds us all that our movement towards God is always overshadowed by God’s movement towards us. When we take a small step towards the Lord, we discover that he has already taken a giant step towards us. (Martin Hogan)