Homily by Deacon Harry
It was over 30 years ago that a kind, soft spoken lady asked me if I would be willing to teach Christian Formation. Those of you that remember Sister Janice Rospert may recall that she had a way of engaging people to volunteer for her projects. Her pitch was “Would you be willing?” to do whatever her current need may have been.
I was newly initiated into the church and a bit unsure of my faith but I was also fresh off an inspiring church retreat that left me wanting to do more. An invitation into the unknown and a hunger for something more made for an effective combination for agreeing to volunteer for most anything ….capable or not.
Memories of Sister Janice’s invitation came to me as I was thinking about and praying with this week’s Gospel.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was despised by the people who fell under his jurisdiction. Tax collectors, although Jews, were agents of the Romans. They collected from the people money and property that went into the treasuries of the local Roman governor.
Not only did they collect what was owed the Romans but they often extorted payments from their Jewish brothers over and above what they actually owed. Zacchaeus was a rich man so he was probably very good at what he did.
Now Zacchaeus probably hasn’t been inside the local synagogue much less the Temple in Jerusalem for many, many years. Because of his status as a tax collector he was likely shunned from religious service.
He was the last person that anyone would have expected to have had an interest in Jesus. Something was moving him… Perhaps curiosity, perhaps loneliness, but he was driven to act.
For a tax collector to climb a tree to catch a glimpse of this itinerant preacher Jesus took him well out of character… Just imagine his surprise when Jesus looked up and called him by name!
A couple of things lead me to believe that Zacchaeus was ready for this encounter.
First, he rushes to catch up and willingly climbs a tree in order to see Jesus. This suggests an extreme measure of curiosity.
Second, notice how quickly he responds to Jesus’ invitation. He doesn’t think about or care what the many people who hated him think.
And finally, Zacchaeus shows great joy in being called and has an abrupt change of heart. A change so significant that he is willing to offer to give up his wealth as a proof of his contrition…
His humility and repentance are rewarded with salvation and a welcomed return to God’s people as Jesus exclaims “This man is indeed is a child of Abraham. Imagine how beloved Zacchaeus will be when he follows through on his promise to more than make things right with the people he cheated…
Jesus scores here also as he reclaims a soul that is truly lost and is willing to acknowledge his sinfulness and turn his life around.
I have had people in our parish express to me an interest in doing more. What motivates their interest I do not know for sure but I do know that the Holy Spirit can move us to action and likely did for Zacchaeus.
Sometimes we only need an invitation like the one that came from Jesus or someone like Sister Janice or Father Paul…an invitation to break us out of our routine.
To take a step into the unknown with a promise of great reward…
To take an opportunity to be willing to try something different…
And with God’s help be part of something greater than ourselves…
At Saint Francis DeSales we have plenty of ministries to choose from and plenty of opportunities for all, who like Zacchaeus may be moved to do more…
And to get an invitation… you won’t have to climb a tree!