Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: Encounter with Christ
By: Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico
Homily for Sunday November 3 2019
The Gospel passage for this Sunday in Ordinary Time tells us the beautiful story of someone who had a real conversion after encountering Jesus Christ. Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho and tree-climber, ends up doing great things when the Lord comes to dine with him.
We are told Zacchaeus needed to climb a tree in order to see the passing Lord. This action says something about his tenacity or at least curiosity to know more about this rabbi of whom many spoke. Seeing the Lord and listening to his words, Zacchaeus reveals a readiness to change his ways and make amends for any he may have defrauded others.
The first reading this Sunday, written about a century before the birth of Christ, stresses the overwhelming kindness of God. It is clearly expresses that God loves all things that are and loathes nothing that he has made.
The second reading for Mass this Sunday, words of Saint Paul, emphasizes that the Lord does not come in an agitating or terrifying way, but rather in “every honest intention and work of faith.”
We see the truth of the first and second readings manifested in the attitude of Jesus toward the rich man Zacchaeus. From Jesus perspective, everything and everyone is holy. It is only the incorrect or evil use by selfish intention of the heart which results in profaning what is holy and in turn reducing people and objects to an unholy level of being.
Jesus invites himself to the home in order to dine with the rich tax collector Zacchaeus. The Lords is able to see the goodness of an otherwise despised person and causes a stir, whereby people say, “He has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.”
In the course of their dining Zacchaeus admits he has cheated people but is ready and willing to make amends. Is it the shock of Jesus in his house that causes the change of heart? It doesn’t matter! Obviously, Jesus saw an opportunity here to convert the heart of a sinner. Presumably Zacchaeus remained a tax collector, but presumable an honest one after his encounter with Jesus. As a Jew, his own people did not respect him, but now he could at least carry out his work with a clear conscience, even if still despised by others.
The important point, no what the profession of Zacchaeus or anyone else may be, is simply that “the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost,” as Jesus expressed it. While we rejoice in this reality, we must also apply it to our daily life, that is, never losing hope in others, either our friends, family, co-workers, perceived enemies, or whomever. We must keep striving to assist those in need, the loveable or not, and extend to them the loving hand of Jesus as best we can.
The late Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, of the Congregation of the Passion, sums up well our work, illuminating this Sunday’s Gospel text with this prayer:
“Lord, you are gracious and merciful. Impart your kindness to me so that I will always be slow to anger and compassionate towards all your works. You are faithful in your words and holy in all your works. Let me see your sanctifying and faithful hand in the words and works of my neighbor” (from “Biblical Meditations for ordinary Time, Weeks 23 – 34,” Paulist Press, 1984, p. 370).