October 30, 2016 — Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we are treated to that engaging story of the tax collector Zacchaeus and what he went through to see, to meet, and to engage Jesus. This entire contemplation could focus on that story and all of its implications, but it is supported by the other readings as well.
The Book of Wisdom, from which we have our First Reading, is normally divided into two parts. The first part extols the benefits and value of wisdom (the first nine chapters), and the second part speaks to the historical nature of wisdom (the last 10 chapters). Our reading today is taken from the history portion. Sometimes it is a challenge to “cut through” the language and the style and glean what is most important for us to understand.
In today’s reading there is one simple phrase that might be cited as significant to us, and particularly noteworthy if we think of it in the context of stewardship. That is the simple phrase “…you spare all things because they are yours.” Over and over in Holy Scripture we are reminded that all things come from God and all things are God’s. That, of course, is at the crux of stewardship, our recognition and acceptance that God is at the center of all because all we have all we are is God’s in the first place.
St. Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians. Thessalonica is a city in northern Greece. In addition, there are 13 verses from the Acts of the Apostles devoted to the Thessalonians. The earliest of the New Testament books after James (chronologically-speaking) is St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, from whence our Second Reading comes. Paul speaks often in this Book about the Second Coming of Christ, and this particular passage is no exception.
At the final sentence of today’s Second Reading, St. Paul makes reference to the fact that the “…day of the Lord is at hand.” This is probably what was troubling the Thessalonians, not that Christ’s Second Coming was imminent, but that they were already in the midst of it. Their concern was whether they were prepared. In a sense that should be a concern for all of us. Jesus certainly reminds us often that we should be concerned with that. Are we ready? Are we ready each day, each hour, and each minute for that matter? We need to be.
And now we get to the Gospel and to Zacchaeus. It is a story that is familiar to almost all of us. Here is this poor man, an admitted sinner, who hears that Jesus Christ is approaching. Zacchaeus has a desire to be saved. He understands that Jesus is the road to that salvation. He feels he must take advantage of the situation presented to him. When Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree as He passes, He knows him and He calls him by name: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly.” We must always remember that Jesus knows each of us also, and He knows us by name. That is one of the glories of the Kingdom. Our acknowledgment of that by striving to be His disciple is important,
Although the sense of the story is that Zacchaeus sought and pursued Jesus, the truth was that Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus. The Lord seeks us in the same way, but are we as prepared as the tax collector was to respond? Zacchaeus responds with haste; if he had not reacted in such a prompt way, the Lord may have moved on. We cannot afford to risk that same thing. Jesus is calling us by name every day. Are we equally prepared to respond “with haste?” Then Zacchaeus had to “receive” Jesus — that is, invite Jesus into his life. That is exactly what each of us needs to do. It is not easy because, like Zacchaeus, it may produce embarrassment and misunderstanding. However, with the help and constant presence of the Lord, we can overcome all of that.