31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Wis 11:22—12:2  +  2 Thes 1:11—2:2  +  Lk 19:1-10
October 30, 2016

“So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus….”

Out of the 52 Sundays of the year, thirty-plus are Sundays in Ordinary Time.  When we reach these “Thirty-something” weeks, we know that the Church’s liturgical year is drawing to a close.  During these final weeks, the Church focuses on what are called “the Last Things”:  that is, realities that are commonly associated with the end of the world.  The Last Things are Heaven, Hell, death and judgment.

Of course, there’s never a shortage of prophets predicting that the end of the world is near.  However, with the world like it is today:  when we see politicians unable to speak civilly face-to-face; when we see health care premiums skyrocketing; and most ominous of all, when we see the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, you have to wonder if the Second Coming is near.

Nonetheless, the Gospel on this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time is not dramatic or apocalyptic.  It’s a simple story about Jesus and a fellow of short stature named Zacchaeus.  The simplicity of this story helps us, though, relate to it.  We can be impressed or even awed by dramatic stories about the end times, but it’s hard—once we return to the ordinary grind of daily life—to convince ourselves that those stories have anything to do with us.  But the story about Zacchaeus is easier for us to relate to because it’s such a humble story.  Still, we can learn a lot from this story about preparing ourselves to face the Last Things.

So:  look at Zacchaeus.  He is a rich collector of taxes.  Each of us, like him, is attached to worldly things.  Zacchaeus (meaning you) wants to see who Jesus is, but Zacchaeus has two strikes against him.

The first strike against Zacchaeus is the crowd, because everyone wants to see Jesus.  It’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy not to be loved, when you’re part of a crowd.  One might ask himself, “How can Jesus love everyone?”  The second strike against Zacchaeus is his small size, which may represent the size of our soul.  One might feel unworthy of God’s love, and ask himself, “How could Jesus love me?”

So Zacchaeus climbs up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus.  This is all Zacchaeus wants:  to see Jesus.  But that’s not enough for Jesus.

Here’s the turning point in this Gospel passage:  When Jesus reached the place where Zacchaeus had climbed the tree, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly; for today I must stay at your house.”  Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to this individual.  And just as he reached out to this little sinner, he is trying to reach into your life.

This passage illustrates the point/the purpose/the goal/the end of the spiritual life:  that God would dwell within us, and from within, transform us.  This is point of listening to God calling us in the Liturgy of the Word:  to come down and allow Jesus to enter our home, to enter our soul, to transform us from within through the grace of the Holy Eucharist.

Turn back again to the Gospel passage.  Jesus says something to Zacchaeus that Zacchaeus was wanting to hear.  In the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus offers Zacchaeus hope.  Zacchaeus knew that he was coming up short in life, but he didn’t know if Jesus would offer him what he was lacking.  But in the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus does.  Jesus proclaims, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

What was lost?  The human soul was lost in Zacchaeus’s life.  Or in other words, the heart of this human person was lost.  Zacchaeus admits honestly that the way that he has been leading his life has not been working.  If you and I, also, can have the honesty and humility of Zacchaeus, the Lord Jesus will dwell with us.  But it demands a two-part admission.  Number 1, it demands admitting that apart from God, our souls are lost.  Number 2, it demands admitting that Jesus has come here for us, “to seek and to save what was lost.”

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But how does God go about this?  How does God go about seeking and saving what was lost?  Today’s First Reading helps us understand God’s perspective in accomplishing this.  The First Reading is one of the seven books in the Old Testament called the “Wisdom Literature”.  Other books of the Old Testament read more like history, or like prophecies.  But the seven books of the Wisdom Literature are more often than not poetic, reflecting on the nature of God’s beauty and the nature of man’s sinfulness, and putting things in perspective.  We hear this poetic, reflective sort of view today in our First Reading.

The author of this passage declares that “[b]efore the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”  God’s Wisdom puts things in perspective.

Then the author continues by reflecting on human sinfulness, such as your sinfulness, my sinfulness, and Zacchaeus’ sinfulness.  The author cries out to the Lord:  “you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”  We belong to God.  We are His people.  In fact, we are His children.  That’s why He cares so much about us, and does what He does to save what is lost.

In the final sentence of today’s First Reading, the author tells us more about the manner in which God accomplishes this.  The author proclaims to the Lord:  “Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing….”  “Little by little” is how the Lord usually works in our lives.

Little by little God rebukes us.  God is a loving Father.  You remember the passage from Colossians that we hear during Christmastide on the Feast of the Holy Family:  “fathers, do not nag your children lest they lose heart.”[1]  God our Father does not nag us, but neither does He fail to warn us and remind us, little by little, of our sins.

During this coming week, it would be good for us to reflect on ourselves as Zacchaeus.  It would be good to consider the many ways in which we, also, are “small” in the Lord’s sight, but not overlooked.

For each of us, as we grow older, hopefully we also grow wiser, and with that wisdom we can hopefully see that our “mistakes” are often God’s opportunities to “enter our house”, which is to say, our souls.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said:  “God writes straight with crooked lines.”  So as we reflect on how we might respond to the graciousness of God, we can reflect also upon another saying of Mother Teresa:  “God does not call me to be successful.  He calls me to be faithful.”

[1] Colossians 3:21.