Sunday, November 3, 2013

Homily 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C November 03, 2013

Do you like this story about Zaccheus the wealthy tax-collector?    I do. 
          This story we hear in today’s Gospel appears ONLY in the Gospel of St. Luke.  He is the only one that tells us this story about the wealthy tax collector, Zaccheus. 
          It is interesting where Luke situates this story.  Immediately before this passage, as Jesus is approaching the city of Jericho, there is the story of the healing of a blind beggar.   Luke 18: 35-43   
          Now Luke gives us another healing that involves sight:  not physical sight, but rather insight.   For we are told that Zaccheus was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.
            The crowd that keeps Zaccheus from seeing who Jesus is, was not just a lot of tall people standing in the way.  It can also mean that the crowd is that set of expectations that get laid on us of “going along with the crowd”; all the conventions and expectations of society, what those around us expect of our behavior, what everyone is expected to do.  And these crowd expectations can get in the way and block us from truly seeing who Jesus is.  All the expectations about keeping up with the Joneses, all the subtle pressure to have the latest fashion, the fastest smart phone and tablet, the recent model car, a certain type of house, who to like and who to disdain, and on and on.  All that stuff can become clutter in our lives that keeps us from seeing who Jesus truly is.  And so it was for Zaccheus.
          For all his faults, Zaccheus is still an attractive and sympathetic character because he is persistent.  You see Zaccheus doesn’t give up.  He takes the initiative and breaks away from the crowd to get a different perspective.   So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.     
          When is the last time you climbed a tree?  On the way here to church?   Probably not.  For most of us it has probably been a good long while.  Climbing trees was NOT what a chief tax collector, a wealthy man, an important personage, was supposed to be doing.  In a society that put great emphasis on dignity and decorum, this would have been highly unusual.  It tells us that Zaccheus was willing to risk appearing ridiculous, risk looking foolish, in order to see who Jesus was.   So intense was Zaccheus’ desire, so driven was he to see ‘who is this Jesus?’
What is Jesus all about?  What is it about Jesus that is so attractive and so compelling?    
So Zaccheus throws dignity to the wind, leaves the crowd behind, runs ahead and climbs up into a sycamore tree along Jesus’ route.
          Along comes Jesus. The scene is rather comical.  There is Jesus standing on the road, talking to Zaccheus up in the tree. 
          What does Jesus see?  He does NOT see someone acting foolish.  Rather, Jesus recognizes in Zaccheus a burning desire for something more in life than just making money.  Jesus recognizes the hunger and thirst in Zaccheus that all his wealth does not satisfy.  Jesus sees that Zaccheus is hungry; so Jesus invites himself to dinner, not to be fed but rather to feed Zaccheus“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
               This little Gospel scene is a beautiful lesson for us.   First Jesus heals a beggar of blindness, and now Jesus is going to heal a wealthy man of his inability to see.  They are equally needy and equally blind, but in different ways.  We too have blind spots.  We don’t see clearly our purpose in life; we don’t see how we are blessed by God; we don’t see what Jesus is calling us to do.  Jesus wants to heal us also.
          Often, like Zaccheus if we want to really see then we have to break out of our routine.  We have to get away from the crowd, from all the conventional expectations.  We have to stop worrying about looking foolish, we have to take a risk to go out on a limb to get a different perspective on life.  Probably that does not mean literally climbing up in a tree.  But it might mean turning off the TV and the smart phone and all the other distractions to spend time in quiet and prayer.  It might mean including daily mass in your schedule, something totally different than the rest of your day.  It might mean taking time for a retreat or an evening of recollection, even going off to a monastery or a retreat house.  Your family and co-workers may think you have gone a little nuts, but we will never hear the Lord’s inviting Himself to our house, that is into our hearts, until we stop to listen.
          We can then receive the Lord with joy into our hearts, into our lives.
This will, of course, require changes.  For Zaccheus it required a fundamental shift from looking on his possessions as something to hoard and from the accumulation of more and more and more, to a very different approach of seeing his possessions as the opportunity and the means to do good, to achieve something positive and lasting with them rather than to hoard them just for himself in a sterile way. 

          Zaccheus found his true treasure in the Lord.  So can we.

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