31st SUNDAY-C- November 3, 2019
Wisdom 11: 22-12:2; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 1: 11-22; Luke 19: 1-10
by Jude Siciliano, OP
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The Solemnity of All Saints - November 1st, 2019
What stops us in our tracks? There is a new Maserati automobile dealership advertising the latest models in the newspapers. The going price is around $100,000 – more if you want some extras! If a Maserati went down your street would it stop pedestrians in their tracks? Would it be an eye-catcher? I know it would catch my eye. A while back I walked with my sister through Macy’s. There was a two-year-old girl holding her mother’s coat. My sister stopped and exclaimed, "Cute!" – smiled at the child and complimented the mother.
Even when we are in a rush there are some things that – stop us in our tracks. Luke tells us that Jesus "intended" to pass through Jericho. But he stopped in his tracks. Not because the latest and swiftest chariot was passing through. Not because the cutest two-year-old had called out to him; though, at another time, I am sure, that would have caused him to stop. But it was the silly sight of a grown man, a "wealthy man," up in a sycamore tree, of all things. That stopped Jesus in his tracks. Others there probably looked with scorn at him. The locals would not have liked Zacchaeus at all. He was the chief tax collector.
Tax collectors were Jewish men who collected taxes for the Romans. They knew the local scene. They knew who had a good harvest and how many goats and sheep a shepherd had. They knew how much they could collect, every last schekel. What they took from the local Jewish population would go to supply arms and support for the Roman oppressors. So the locals would not have liked Zacchaeus one bit. It would have delighted them to poke one another in the ribs, point to Zacchaeus in the sycamore and scorn, "Look at that foolish tax collector – all his money and he’s making a fool of himself!"
But when Jesus saw Zacchaeus he stopped in his tracks. He saw a rich man in his expensive clothes. He would know that he was a traitor to his own people and was making a fool of himself – "seeking to see who Jesus was." That’s what got Jesus to stop. Zacchaeus was a seeker and Luke tells us he came out hoping to see Jesus. Maybe Zacchaeus wanted to see if Jesus had something that he needed. What could that be? Was he tired with his way of life? Tired even of the wealth and all it could provide? While Zacchaeus had what he wanted, he didn’t have what he needed – an honest life and good relations in his community. He did not have the respect of his neighbors. Was his family also rejected with comments like, "There are the wife and children of that no good tax collector."
Zacchaeus knew he made his wealth off the back of his neighbors. In doing that he also knew he had turned his back on God because he was helping support the pagans. While he had plenty of gold in his pockets he had a bankrupt spirit. So, we find him seeking to see Jesus. His intentions may not have been perfect, but we do not have to be perfect to attract God’s attention and concern.
Even though Zacchaeus was not a model of repentance, calling out for forgiveness, nevertheless Jesus took the initiative. Jesus stopped and helped him along. Maybe he could read the dissatisfaction, or misery on Zacchaeus’ face. Maybe Jesus could see the hatred and scorn on his neighbors’ faces. Jesus nudged Zacchaeus along. He invited himself to the sinner’s home.
What got the people so upset about Jesus’ going to Zacchaeus’ home? In Jesus’ middle eastern world to enter a person’s home, "to break bread" with them was to enter a sacred and private space. Even the home of a poor person was sacred. Enemies were not allowed in.
I had a sense of this when I was a boy. My grandfather was an immigrant laborer, "a ditch digger." Like many poor immigrants then and now he never really learned English. He did not have time for language classes, my grandparents had 12 children! Grandpa was too busy digging the ditch which became part of the New York subway system. But still, my father told me, when a friend would come to my grandparent’s tiny Brooklyn apartment they would kiss my grandfather’s hand at the door before entering, out of respect. No matter how poor the home, it was sacred.
To enter a home, as Jesus did, would have been an act of reconciliation. If an enemy were invited into a home to "break bread," have a meal, the enemy was reconciled, the past forgiven, a new relationship was formed,. The Eucharist comes from that middle eastern tradition, where enemies eating together are reconciled. That’s something to think about at this celebration today. Look around, who is sharing the same meal with us? Is there something in our relationship with them that needs to be addressed? The Eucharist today can enable us to do what we might not be able, or willing to do on our own, forgive our enemies.
Jesus saw the seeker and took the first step. He didn’t measure how much Zacchaeus had prepared himself. He didn’t require a public proclamation of faith, or a "perfect act of contrition." Jesus filled in the gaps and missing parts and entered Zacchaeus’ home and his life. "Today salvation has come to this house." Everyone in the family benefitted when Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his life. We know that experience. One believer in the home can touch the lives of everyone around them.
Zacchaeus was not perfect; he was unfinished, scattered and lost. But God’s Spirit nudged him to leave his home that day and become a seeker. He thought he was just going to see Jesus with his eyes But when Jesus saw Zacchaeus he stopped in his tracks, accepted him exactly as he was and entered his life and the life of his family.
We have all been nudged by the same Spirit that moved Zacchaeus. In fact, the nudging began at our baptism when we were baptized into the Spirit’s life. And, we have been nudged further: when we saw a person who needed our help, or a listening ear; nudged when we got up on miserable winter mornings to come to church anyway: nudged when we stood up for someone who was being picked on, or ignored; nudged when we needed strength in times of testing or pain; nudged to break what felt like an unbreakable, bad habit – and we did.
We were nudged by the Spirit when a spouse, or friend suggested, "Let’s go to church today." And we responded: we climbed this "tree" because we are searchers and there is a hunger inside us. We want to see Jesus at this moment of our lives. We have come looking for him, just as Zacchaeus did. But Jesus has already stopped in his tracks, seen us, as he always sees us; even though we are far from perfect, scattered, distracted or guilty. Our being here in worship today may seem like pure chance. But it isn’t; the Spirit nudged us and Jesus stopped to see us, just as we are and he joins us at this table.
As he did for Zacchaeus, Jesus also wants to come home with us, in new and surprising ways. What Zacchaeus experienced we want as well; through us we want our family and the world around us to be blessed; so that past hurts can be put aside; people become reconciled and hearts softened towards one another. What will we do in the exchange of looks between us and Jesus? Why not say to Jesus what we say here in the South when we invite someone into our home? "Y’all come in. Make yourself at home. Pleased to see you."
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