Everyone one of us, by the grace of God, can become a saint
Bishop Peter Muhich
Homily from the Televised Mass, NewsCenter1
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 30, 2022
The son of man has come to seek and to save what was lost.
There are different kinds of seeking. We seek answers and enlightenment. We seek second opinions. We seek good deals. We seek companionship. We can also seek to destroy. There are different kinds of seeking. And the kind of seeking that Jesus is doing in the Gospel this Sunday, is the kind of seeking shepherds do.
The Greek words they’re to seek out and to save in the Gospel, are zeteo, to seek, and sozo, to save. Searching for the lost sheep. A seeking that wants to bring back into the fold, that takes the time to go after strays, that flows from a concern to keep the flock together, and to save every sheep. That’s the kind of seeking Jesus is doing. And Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus, which is part of that seeking in the Gospel this Sunday, brings to a close the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel. He has been heading south from his native Galilee to the holy city of Jerusalem ministering and teaching along the way, and we have had the privilege of joining him and his first followers on their pilgrimage to the place of his saving death and resurrection. We’ve been on this journey ever since the Sunday after the feast of Corpus Christi. So many, many weeks now. We’ve had the privilege, in the church’s liturgy, of walking with Jesus and listening to him and learning the lessons he taught his first followers.
Today’s encounter with Zacchaeus is the culmination of the Lord’s ministry and preaching on that journey. A real-life example of what Jesus is all about — bringing salvation to sinners, seeking and finding the lost sheep of the house of Israel. After this encounter, Jesus will enter the holy city of Jerusalem and undergo his passion and death. Christ, the Good Shepherd, will pay to seek out and save his last sheep.
So, what can we learn from this encounter of Jesus and Zacchaeus that immediately precedes his entrance into Jerusalem and his passion and death. Well first of all, we learn from this encounter that God’s love for us is not passive. God acts. Jesus is seeking Zacchaeus as much as Zacchaeus is seeking him. He wants to seek out and save the lost. So, God’s love is active not passive.
Secondly, God’s love is merciful. Sinners find forgiveness in Jesus. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Not just a tax collector, but a chief tax collector. Remember tax collectors were so despised because they were Jews cooperating with the Roman the occupying force that was considered to have made unclean the Holy Land and needed to be expelled in the people’s minds. But instead these Jews are cooperating with the Romans and collecting the Roman taxes and, not only that, they are able to keep whatever they can collect above the quotas of Rome to enrich themselves. And we hear that’s Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, so he had done that a lot.
So, God’s love is active. God’s love is merciful. Sinners, even tax collectors, find forgiveness in Jesus. Third God’s love for us puts up with ridicule and grumbling. It’s not based on social acceptance and popularity. When Jesus looks up at Zacchaeus and says, “Zacchaeus come down I’m must stay in your house today” there is grumbling, and Jesus is willing to go through that ridicule in order to save him.
Fourth, Zacchaeus is active as well. He’s seeking to see Jesus, even climbing the Sycamore tree, which a chief tax collector just wouldn’t be caught doing. Something is stirred in Zacchaeus, and he decides to leave his preoccupations, with wealth perhaps, we don’t know his whole story, and move toward the Lord. This is going to put him at risk as well. He’s risking something of his reputation to go and seek out Jesus.
Fifth, we learned that Zacchaeus repents and realizes that Jesus loves him and that facilitates the repentance. He realizes there’s a way back from sin from him. God’s love is always active. It always come before we move. God’s been touching Zacchaeus heart in some way, and he realizes God’s love. Touched by that love in Jesus, and so he’s willing to move himself — moving towards reconciliation. Moving towards repentance.
And finally, Zacchaeus really does repent. His sorrow for his sins leads to real change. He says, “I’ll give half my possessions to the poor,” and then he mentions, too, “if I’ve extorted anything from anyone,” and he has, that he’ll repay that extorted amount four times over. You might not know that that was the maximum restitution rate in society at the time. This is real change.
God’s love, as we read this passage and join Jesus’s disciples in this encounter with Zacchaeus, God’s love is actively pursuing us as well. We have come here to this Mass as sinners. We’ve come in our own way. We’ve made efforts to be here, to see him in the Eucharist. Whatever we’ve done to make sure our schedule allows us to be together in this celebration of the Mass, we’ve come to see him. Here in these sacred mysteries the Good Shepherd lays down his life for us. That’s what the Eucharist gives us, his death and resurrection, that perfect sacrifice, that victory over sin and death, as a meal for our journey. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for us his lost sheep, mercifully giving all that we might be saved. And realizing that in this Mass, sometimes we do Mass so often that we forget that that’s what’s going on, we have the chance today realize that, and like Zacchaeus to repent and undergo deeper conversion hearing the Lord say to us, “come quickly, for today I must stay with you,” hoping we’ll receive him with joy so that salvation might come to our homes as well.