31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily by Fr. Gerard Jonas
3 November 2019
Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalm 144; 2Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10
When driving a vehicle, when do we turn on the headlamps? Safe-driving instructions remind us to keep them on from dusk to morning, not only ‘til the break of dawn. It’s not just for us to see the road but also for others to see us while we are on the road.
In the Gospel reading today we see the dynamics of going up and coming down, of trying to see and being seen. Going up the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus did a number of things: he was curious about the person of Jesus so he tried to see Him. Admitting that he was short of stature, he propped himself up;
for a better perspective, he moved away from the crowd that blocked his view. What seemed to have started just out of curiosity graciously turned out to be a spiritual encounter for Zacchaeus, an experience of God’s unconditional love. His curiosity about Jesus made him oblivious to what people might say in seeing an adult public figure climbing up a tree just like what children do. The curiosity stirred in him, as it turns out, is God’s initial invitation.
In wanting to see Jesus, he allowed himself to be seen by Jesus; and when their eyes met, it was Jesus’ turn to act: He summoned Zacchaeus to hurry down as He invited Himself to be with Zacchaeus in his home. Jesus also seemed oblivious to what people might say about Him going into a public sinner’s house.
This summons to come down is actually an invitation for Zacchaeus to step up his relationship with Jesus. From a mere spectator, Zacchaeus became a follower and a disciple. As called upon, he came down from his life-long tree of worldly comfort and a false sense of security, taking the path of humility.
In pulling Zacchaeus away from the crowd, Jesus pulled him away from his old life of sinfulness that led to his admission that he was short not only in stature but also in morality. Jesus then rewarded the humility and simple but sincere faith of Zacchaeus with mercy, with a fuller life of kindness and honesty. Zacchaeus got more than what he expected and hoped for. He announced what penance he was willing to undergo in response to Jesus’ forgiveness.
Indeed, just as the Book of Wisdom tells us today, God is merciful: “You have mercy on all… You rebuke offenders little by little, warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!” And how did Jesus respond to his intended act of reparation? He declared that salvation has come to his household. Yes, it’s not only him who will benefit from his metanoia but his whole household and beyond.
As sinfulness has a communal dimension, so does grace: if his family, the community had suffered through his fraud, now his family and the community at large are to benefit from his reform. God’s love includes all as it is intended for all.
We see here the dynamics of God’s mercy and good works. Forgiveness begets reform. It is always God’s mercy that moves us into good works and not our good works that move God to into mercy. God’s mercy sort of impels us to feel grateful and we reciprocate accordingly. We cannot buy grace which is gratuitously and abundantly given.
And so with Paul, in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, let us pray continually that God will make us worthy of his call and by his power fulfill all our desires for goodness and complete all that we have been doing through faith; because in this way the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in us and we in him, by the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In our monastic tradition, we may say that the sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed up is the ladder of humility that St Benedict puts before us in the Monastic Rule. Climbing up is actually going down from what impedes our encounter and eventual life with God. In our monastic life, akin to a life-long retreat, we pull away into solitude.
Now, let us take a moment to recognize our own sycamore tree that gives us a better perspective of looking into ourselves in relationship with God and with others. At this Eucharist, let us hear Jesus beckon us to come with Him into the core of our self and there be strengthened to resolve to only be for and with Him.