31st Sunday (Year C)

1st Reading: Wisdom 11:22-12:2

Wisdom makes us humble in God’s presence

In your sight, Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground. Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent. Yes, you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it. And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist, how be conserved if not called forth by you? You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, you whose imperishable sprit is in all. Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you Lord.

2nd Reading: 2 Thess 1:11–2:2

Not being too focused on the (future) Day of the Lord

We always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus dines with Zacchaeus, to bring back a lost soul

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.”


Letting myself be changed

José Antonio Pagola writes:

Luke narrates the episode of Zacchaeus so his readers would better discover what they can expect of Jesus: the Lord they invoke and follow in the Christian communities «has come to seek out and save what was lost». They must never forget it. At the same time, this story of what Zacchaeus does, helps to answer the question that many carry within: Can I still change? Isn’t it by now too late to redo a life that, for the most part, has gone to waste? What steps can I take?

Zacchaeus enters the scene, described in two ways that define his life precisely. He is «one of the senior tax collectors» and is «wealthy». In Jericho everyone knows that he is a sinner. Someone who doesn’t serve God but serves money. His life, like so many others, isn’t very humane. But this man was trying to see Jesus. It’s not just curiosity. He really wants to know who Jesus is, what it is about this Prophet that so attracts people. This was not an easy thing for a man snug within his own world. But this desire for Jesus will change his life.

To see the Lord, this person will have to overcome different obstacles. For one, he’s «short in size», and up to now his life wasn’t motivated by very noble ideals. The people are another impediment: he will have to overcome social prejudices that make it difficult for him to have a personal and responsible meeting with Jesus. But Zacchaeus keeps at his quest simply and sincerely. He runs to get ahead of the crowd, and climbs a tree like a child. He doesn’t think about his dignity as an important person. He only wants to find a moment and a place adequate to make contact with Jesus. He wants to see him.

That’s when he discovers that Jesus also is seeking him, since when Jesus reaches that place, he looks around for him and says: «The meeting will be this very day in your sinner’s house». Zacchaeus comes down and receives him in his house full of joy. There are decisive moments when Jesus passes through our life because he wants to save our wasted life. He won’t let us escape from it.

Luke doesn’t describe the meeting. He only speaks of Zacchaeus’ transformation. He changes his way of looking at life: he no longer thinks just about his money, but about others’ suffering. He changes his way of life: he will do justice for those he has exploited and will share his goods with the poor.

Sooner or later, we all run the risk of «setting ourselves up» in life, renouncing any aspiration of living more humanely. We believers need to know that a more authentic meeting with Jesus can make our life more human and, above all, more in solidarity.

Letting Jesus find us

The final verse of today’s Gospel can help us interpret many another story about Jesus. His key mission was “to seek out and save what was lost.” Perhaps his 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.


One Comment

  1. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Does Zaccheus get a raw deal from our commentaries?

    The translation of the gospel above says “I will give … I will pay back …” The Greek, along with the Vulgate and the Douai, have the present tense: “I give to the poor … I restore four-fold.” These could be understood, of course, to refer to the future, but the verbs are in the present.

    Zaccheus seems to be saying very definitely that, despite what people say about him, he is not greedy or unjust; and yet he is being demonised and ostracised by the “good” people. He is one of the children of Abraham.

    Jesus does not declare him guilty. The closing sentence of the reading could be read to imply that. But it could also be read as saying that Zaccheus has been lost because he has been excommunicated, and that without just cause. Salvation has come now that he comes to know Jesus, and is called by Jesus. Salvation comes not just to Zaccheus, but to his “house” – the word occurs twice. The Gospel according to Luke is written at a time when “church” meets in house-churches.

    Jesus must stay at our house today.
    With all that that implies.

    (Could we see our tax-collectors today giving half to the poor?
    Could we see them refunding four times as much on occasions when they overcharge?)

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