19 November, 2019. Tuesday of Week 33
1st Reading: 2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Eleazar’s refusal to disobey Yahweh inspires the whole Jewish 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.
Responsorial: Psalm 3:2-7
R./: The Lord upholds me
How many are my foes, O Lord!
How many are rising up against me!
How many are saying about me:
‘There is no help for him in God.’ (R./)
But you, Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, who lift up my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord.
He answers from his holy mountain. (R./)
I lie down to rest and I sleep.
I wake, for the Lord upholds me.
I will not fear even thousands of people
who are ranged on every side against me. (R./)
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10
Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, to seek and save what was lost
Jesus 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 meeting with Zacchaeus tells us something vital about Jesus. He understood his life’s work as seeking and saving people who were in some way lost. The story suggests that we will be more easily found if we first know ourselves to be in need of finding. To encounter Jesus, Zacchaeus had to set aside some of his dignity, by climbing up the sycamore tree. Then when he was really “found,” he promised to use most of his wealth in paying back people he had defrauded. Jesus too was risking his reputation by dining in the house of such a public sinner. It’s clear that he was more concerned with substance than with appearances. When came under the sycamore tree where the little tax-collector was perched, Jesus looked up and called, “Hurry on down!” The desire for repentance felt by Zacchaeus must have been obvious to the one whose purpose in life was to seek and save what was lost.
Eleazar, in Maccabees, was called not to a change of lifestyle but to stay true to his religious identity, even to the point of losing his very life by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, and even at the point of death he declared his joy at staying true to the Lord God. Eleazar’s martyrdom brought a blessing to his entire nation, leaving an unforgettable example of loyalty to what God required of them.
Coming back to Zacchaeus, it seems that he was a seeker, a searcher for a nobler kind of life. He was anxious to encounter Jesus, and for this he was ready to, literally, to go out on a limb, and sit among the leaves. This was an undignified thing for a wealthy man of status. But he went to extravagant lengths to see Jesus, to come to know him. In the process he found that the one he wanted to meet was also searching for him. “I must stay at your house today,” said the man or mercy and welcome.
When we search for God we should know that God is also searching for us. When Zacchaeus invites Jesus to dine, he receives hospitality too, the hospitality of the mercy of God. Salvation came to his house, and a new sense of his own dignity, for he too was a child of Abraham. This tax-collector found his place at God’s table, in spite of his past. Whenever we seek the Lord, we find he was near us all the time.