Oct 29, 2016

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 19:1-9

Zacchaeus was a businessman, a very rich and lucrative businessman. In fact, he was the CEO of a consortium of debt collectors, money launderers and profiteers, despised by the general population, entertained by the rich and famous.  In practice, popular opinion polls would have overwhelmingly suggested that Zacchaeus worshiped a false god and should be shunned by hard-working, simple and honest folk! Add to this, Our Blessed Lord reminds us that it is difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Difficult, yes, but not impossible!  So, how was this man, rich in the eyes of the world, to become rich in the eyes of heaven? Before we start pointing fingers and drawing conclusions as to who such an individual might be, let us be clear. Zacchaeus is you and me!

The first thing we will notice is that Zacchaeus - if he was to encounter Christ, even by chance - he knows he has to get away from the crowd.  

How easy it is for all of us to hide in the crowd at times, to hide behind layers of walls, hide behind or positions, even lost in an online anonymous crowd of statistics and made-up usernames.  Christ himself would never let anything outside of Himself, the crowd or popular opinion to dictate to Him who He was. He would never allow the crowd to force Him into giving His life.  Often, He would retreat to mountaintops, and quiet places to pray. And He would encourage His followers to do likewise - to get away from the crowds, our laptops and smartphones! How long do you think you could survive without wifi???

You see, it really doesn’t matter if you see yourself as big or small, standing out for attention or just going with the flow. The crowd, the herd mentality, has a habit of obscuring our view of the immensity of God's love for each and every unique face in all humanity.  Here in the Gospel, a well intentioned crowd was blocking Zacchaeus from seeking Christ.  

Our Blessed Lord does not want to be treated like a celebrity. He is not in the crowds signing autographs and posing for selfies. He is searching out for sinners - sinners who want to hear His voice, His words of mercy and who want to experience forgiveness and healing.  Caught in the tsunami of a crowd going in every direction, how does God draw out the sinner?

In many cases, it happens in the most unexpected way. Sometimes it just does not make sense. It can even appear foolish, twisted and bizarre.  Does Zacchaeus need a dramatic experience of grace to propel him up a tree so he can glimpse heaven, if only from a distance? Of course not. But underneath his visible effort, God’s invisible grace is at work lifting him up and out from the clutches of the fast moving world – God’s grace is working with him in his gradual detachment from the clutches of the world.

To all appearances, this little rich man, in order to experience mercy, up in a tree - it seems comical, even foolish.  But is it really?  It equally seems foolish on the part of God, that He would send His Son and put Him also on a tree. And from that tree divine mercy would be communicated to the world, even if the crowd responded by laughter or mockery.  And if we have to climb a tree to see our Blessed Lord, let us climb the tree of the cross and not be afraid to look foolish doing so.  For it is upon the wood of the cross that Christ offers His body and blood in sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. 

Also like Zacchaeus, we are not stuck up the tree forever, lost in the darkness of its branches! When we hear the voice of Him who will eventually tell us to come down, we know that we will have passed through our own Good Friday and into the day of the Resurrection. Salvation has come to our house!

Now this is not simply symbolic language. It’s a template for our own conversion. Conversion is not a simple one-minute exercise or an hour long ritual. It is continual, drawing us deeper and deeper into the love and mercy of God.  And it is often a continuous battle. There are times when we are glad to get away from the crowd.  There are times when we are caught up in it again.  There are times when we try to detach ourselves from the things of this world. There are times when we find it hard to let go.  There are times when we have found great comfort and strength in the cross of Christ. There are times when, because of fear and embarrassment, we have abandoned Christ on the cross.  There are times when we have joyfully trusted that He will catch us when we fall. There are times when we have kept our eyes closed and allowed our fear and sins to paralyze us.

How does the story end? Christ invites Himself into our homes, into the messy circumstances of our lives. But on our part, we have to always make sure that the door is open and there is a place and space for Him in our home, a home that may be messy inside but it keeps the crazy crowds outside.

And if we find ourselves like we do now, gathered around this altar surrounded by sinners and with the world outside thumping at our door trying to get in our mind, know that each one of us has already caught the attention of Christ's mercy. From here, whether He's invited or not, He wants to go home with you today, regardless if you have your home tidy or in disarray. Remember, the first home Christ had was a manger, a stable!

The Sunday Mass we celebrate today, opens the door.  Allow Christ to pass through the crowd and enter into the sanctuary of your home. And as our guest, let our response also be mercy - mercy especially to those, who because of our rash opinions, we have often deprived, one way or another, of their God-given dignity that no one can rob. This way we lift up everyone to that opportunity for human virtue that God's grace promises to every sinner.

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