HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C.
THEME: An encounter that changes ones’ destiny.
BY: Fr. Jude Nnadi.
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY OCTOBER 30 2022.
Wisdom 11: 22-12: 2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19: 1-10
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19).
The name Zacchaeus was the Greek form of the Hebrew Zakkai, a name brought by one of the officers of Judah Maccabee (2 Mac 10,10), the one who led Israel to rebellion against the Syrian-Greek oppression of the Seleucids in the Hellenistic period between 167- 164 BC. The Zakkai of Jericho who is curious to see Jesus is, on the other hand, a collaborator, despised by the people, a man feared but isolated. The story is narrated in thread of good-natured irony: it is impressive, in fact, to see this official while he clings to a trunk, heedless of ridicule and moved by an invincible curiosity. A curiosity that, deeply conceals an authentic anxiety. A curiosity in this case very beneficial, which will revolutionize the life of this tax employee, as was the case of his colleague from Capernaum, Matthew-Levi.
The story of Zacchaeus is that of a search that leads to an encounter and a goal. In fact, the whole story is built on verbs of movement that do not define only a spatial context, that of Jericho and his streets, but are configured as a plot of a pilgrimage towards salvation. Thus, Jesus “intended to pass through the town” in which Zacchaeus lived his whole life as a bureaucrat. The turning point occurs immediately: Zacchaeus “seeks to see” Jesus, trying to wedge himself into the crowd; “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was to pass that way.” “When he reached the place, Jesus looked up”, and inaugurates for him the true spiritual journey, the one that has salvation as its goal: “come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus, then, “goes down in a haste” and “welcomes” Jesus “to his house”. “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14: 22-23)
This “journey”, which is a story of an encounter that changes ones’ destiny, is interpreted that day according to two different readings, evidence of two antithetical mentalities constantly present in humanity. The first interpretation is a perverse one, very hypocritical: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner!”. It is a rigid attitude of the Pharisees in the parable that is repeated with all its charge of pride, self-sufficiency, and judgment. The second interpretation is the luminous one of Christ who in the itinerary of Zacchaeus sees the history of salvation inaugurated even in a sinner: “Today salvation has come to this house … For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost.”
With these words of movement, this story becomes, a narration of a conversion that in biblical language is always expressed with images of return, of an encounter between God and man. There is no one who encounters God and yet remains in their old self, the result of such encounter is always a new creation, an inward transformation, he/she must then be involved in God’s work. “Behold, half of my possession, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.”-repentance. It is not a simple confession of the lips; it is an authentic retraction of an entire life. Hence, the dawn of a new existence.
At the end, Luke adds a hint of his complacency in seeing Jesus in the company of the weak, the marginalized and even those who are considered delinquent, in the certainty that Christ did not come to destroy but to liberate, not to condemn but to forgive, he did not come to exterminate but “to seek and save what was lost”. The passage, then, from an appeal to search and hope in God addressed to the one who feels guilty and unhappy turns into an invitation to love, to open our mind to those the society marks as irrecoverable or unreliable. The hope of Jesus is that of a Church in which all are welcomed, his desire is to have disciples who come out of their comfort zones “to seek and to save what was lost.”