Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 30, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2 / Ps 145 / 2 Thes 1:11-2:2 / Lk 19:1-10
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, inventor, political philosopher. Before I could get my citizenship, I had to study a little bit about the history of the United States of America. He helped draft and signed the Declaration of Independence and was the first postmaster of the US.
One day Benjamin Franklin met a lady walking along with her young son. She asked him, “Why is it that the riches of the world bring unhappiness?” He didn’t answer her. Instead, he got an apple from a basket and gave it to the boy. The little boy was very happy and ate the apple immediately. Franklin gave him another, and then another one, until both of the boy’s hands had three apples. Since he couldn’t hold them all, an apple eventually fell to the ground. The boy cried loudly.
Franklin then said to the mother, “You see, when the boy had two apples, which he could comfortably carry, he was happy. But look, when he had too many to carry, and one of them dropped, he started crying. So also with wealth.”
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, but he was lonely. He had everything, but he was not happy. He was at the top of his profession, but he was despised by his fellow men.
His parents named him “Zacchaeus.” Jewish names have meanings that correspond to one’s personality, just like when we give names to our children. For example, Gabriel means “man of God.” Dominic means “belonging to the Lord.” Irene means “peace.” Ann means “grace,” Corazon means “heart.” The name Zacchaeus means “just” or “clean.” Yet, when the people of Jericho heard the name “Zacchaeus,” they did not think of a just man or a “Mr. Clean” guy, but a detestable and dishonest man.
Tax collectors were despised and considered outcasts, traitors, puppets of the Romans, no doubt because they accumulated great wealth at the expense of others. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was much hated by all the people. Beyond collecting his quota that he turned into the state, he surcharged the poor and pocketed the extra money that he collected.
The chances of Zacchaeus entering God’s Kingdom were minimal. No self-respecting Jew would endorse his application. Even Jesus Christ pointed out that a rich person would find it very difficult to enter the Kingdom. The rich young man who actually led a clean life was not able to follow; how much more difficult for Zacchaeus, who had sold his soul for money?
Yet Jesus, in today’s gospel, singled out Zacchaeus for the honor of staying at his home. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, hurry down, for I must stay at your house today.” Imagine that Jesus said to you, “I must stay at your house today.” How would you react to such an invitation? Would you be excited or embarrassed? Would your home be ready? Would you be personally ready to welcome Jesus into your home?
Why would Jesus single him out? It is because Zacchaeus needed God’s merciful love and forgiveness. In his encounter with Jesus, he found more than he imagined possible. He shows the depth of his repentance by deciding to give up half of his goods to the poor, and to use the other half for making restitution for fraud. This shows how radical his conversion was, coupled with restitution. Just like in the sacrament of Reconciliation, after we have confessed all our sins to the priest, the priest will advise us to return what we have taken, restore the dignity of others that we have destroyed, and more. Then he gives penitential works to restore what we have destroyed.
We have another reason why Jesus singled out Zacchaeus. It is because in Zacchaeus’s entire life, he was always looking down for money and business. His focus is on profit and worldly pleasure. But he was asked to rise up and see that the love and forgiveness of God is vast, and that he has the opportunity to change himself for the better.
When he was at the top of the sycamore tree, Jesus asked him to go down. It means that we should not always be at the top and seeing heaven, but to go down and continue doing the mission that Jesus has given us.
There are people who keep their distance from Jesus. They call themselves Christians, but they do not get involved. They are in the tree observing all that is going on in the Church. They are liberal with their comments, generous with their recommendations, and always ready with advice. But they will stay there at a safe distance, looking down from a sheltered observation point.
Today’s gospel ends with a beautiful saying of Jesus: The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. Jesus Christ is telling us that He seeks the sinners and the lost in order to offer them, and us, salvation. Such is the great love of God. The sinners have an important place in His plan of salvation. But seeking God does not mean that we need to wait until He finds us. Choosing to hide ourselves from Him never helps us in the process. Life is, and should be, a constant search for God.
So, answering the call of Jesus means to come down from our position as observer. We cannot be spectators. We have to join the community and participate in its activities. We have to let Jesus enter the inner sanctuary of our personal lives.
As we continue the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for those who do not have the Lord God dwelling in their homes. Let us ask the Lord to reach out to these souls so that they, too, may partake in the universal salvation plan of God.