Homily by Deacon Jay
Today is the 307th day of the year 2019. There are only 58 mores left. The Liturgical Year C–the Church’s year– has only 27 days remaining. On this the 31st Sunday of ordinary time, the Church reminds all of us here today that, though we might seem insignificant in the eyes of others, it does not in any way diminish the love, the mercy and the salvation that God has for each and every one of us.
Many or even most Christians have this idea that the God of the Old Testament was all hell-fire and damnation. And there are quite a few passages that harshly speak of God’s judgment on the world in general and sinners in particular. It was Jonathon Edwards an 18th century Protestant evangelist in his most famous 1741 sermon entitled Sins in the Hands of an Angry God. Painted the picture of hell with words that were hideous and horrible indeed.
But the words we hear today from the Book of Wisdom are quite different. God has mercy for us and he overlooks our sins so that we might repent and return to the Lord. Our psalm this morning is reason for encouragement and hope. God is kind……merciful……gracious…..and compassionate.
We all know that tax collectors were at best compromised figures. They were Jews who worked for the Romans, the occupying power and what’s worse, they got wealthy from it. They were in charge not only of collecting taxes but snooping around constantly, keeping an eye on everyone’s business, making sure that no one was making money without the Romans knowing about it and never leaving a dime on the table.
But “this day” would be different for Zacchaeus. And Luke knows exactly what “this day” means. Eleven times St. Luke will use the phrase “this day” in his gospel. “This day” is born to you a savior…” “This day” the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. “This day” you will be with me in paradise”. “This day” for Luke is the proclamation of hope, and of victory, and of the reign of God, and the presence of God.
The story of Zacchaeus is a true indication that the merciful Christ comes to seek and save us. Irrespective of all his human obstacles, the courage and humility of Zacchaeus attracted the attention and mercy of Christ to him. He refused to be limited by the crowd, or allow his short stature be a hindrance to his salvation. For on “this day”, when he climbed the fig tree to see Jesus, the life of Zacchaeus was changed forever. On “this day” Zacchaeus, a sinner, a man who exploited and was hated by others, is blessed with the gift of salvation. Jesus touches the heart of Zacchaeus and fills him with the light of His presence. And Zacchaeus was ready and waiting. Today, Jesus tells him, salvation has come to his house.
“This day” is each day of our lives. For “this day” Jesus affirms God’s love for each one of us and for all that God has created. Love, not loathing, is God’s manner of dealing with us. Mercy and forgiveness are the ways of God, who overlooks our sins and allows time for our repentance and for our returning to the truth. “This day,” Christ reminds you and me that He is the guest who wishes to come and to dine with us……to live in our hearts and to bring us to new life.
It is a mistake if we start to think that anyone, even Zacchaeus earns their salvation. We can’t earn it, and we can’t buy it. But is does start, apparently with finding a way to get up into a tree. The trees in that part Israel aren’t so tall, so for us it could start with a retreat, or praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or simply being present with someone who is sick or angry who needs us or beginning that process of getting rid of some of the commitments and possessions that weigh us down and keep us from climbing that tree.
God gives salvation to us and to all sorts of people, for reasons that we will never understand and that’s a good thing; we have a God who is willing to embrace all kinds of people who don’t measure up.
How then do we do it? Pablo Picasso said “that the meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away.”