FR. GERALD MUSA HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C.
THEME: God of Mercy.
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa.
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY OCTOBER 30 2022.
Wisdom 11:22-12:22; Luke 19:9-10
The Bible is full of stories that show the mercy and love of God. The book of Wisdom describes the mercy of God: “Therefore thou dost correct little by little those who trespass, and dost remind and warn them of the things wherein they sin, that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in thee, O Lord” (12:2). One of the most interesting scriptural stories of God’s mercy is the story of Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector and regarded as corrupt and a traitor. He was wealthy and physically short in height. He was eager to see Jesus but his height prevented him from seeing Jesus amid the crowd and so he climbed a sycamore tree to have a full view of Jesus. He considered himself too bad to be noticed by Jesus. Jesus lovingly said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).
In an attempt to interpret the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, I recall a well-known philosophical principle that was used by Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and re-echoed many centuries later by Stephen R. Covey, author of seven habits of effective people. The principle says, “Begin with the end in mind.” To understand the key point in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is, to begin with, the end of the given passage by reading it backward beginning from verse 10 which says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” To begin with the end in mind is to envision the kernel of the message in the passage, which is the grace, mercy, and salvation of God. Also, this verse essentially describes the mission of Jesus, which is precisely seeking and saving the lost. Zachariah describes the lost as “them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). Jesus related cordially and freely with the lost, despised, ostracised, and notorious sinners who are shut out of society. He reached out to all because “He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). This explains why he is called Saviour, Redeemer, and Good Shepherd.
In drawing the lost closer, Jesus neither condemned them nor preached a sermon of fire and brimstone but showed them kindness and unconditional love, which inspired them to repentance. The Apostle Paul, a beneficiary of the saving mission of Jesus affirms “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Jesus teaches us a great lesson about how to be patient, tolerant, kind and loving to people who are morally weak and who are considered to be spiritual and social outcasts. When the world sees only one side of a person, God can see all sides. We easily write off and condemn others but Jesus can see the good side of even the vilest sinner.
What is remarkable about Zacchaeus is that he showed sufficient interest in inner transformation and he seized the moment when he heard that Jesus was around his area. He demonstrated this longing by climbing a sycamore tree; he truly understood that repentance was not just lip service but also a resolution that is backed with concrete action and so he did restitution by shedding his wealth and repaying people he defrauded. He said, “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” (Luke 19:8). No doubt, salvation comes through the grace of God. However, Salvation does not exclude human efforts as the Apostle Paul shows in the following two passages. First, he says: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13). Second, he says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am. and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). We learn from Zacchaeus what it means to come down from the tree that keeps us a distance away from Jesus; more still, he teaches us what it means to have a sincere change of heart and the courage to embark on a new beginning.
Jesus teaches his followers how to seek people by meeting them where they are. Sometimes, we sit and wait for repentant sinners to meet us in our offices, rectories, or conferences. Jesus went out into the fields, marketplaces, farms, and seaside to seek the lost. Therefore, all priests, shepherds, pastors, and churches are called to imitate Christ by reinforcing their passion and zeal to seek the lost. If lost people matter so much to Jesus, his followers must learn to be like him by cultivating a positive and kind attitude toward the lonely, lost, unloved, and even the unlovable.
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus teaches us the power and efficacy of interpersonal communication in evangelisation. Very often preachers speak to crowds but have little or no time to converse personally or visit members of the Church. Therefore, preachers need interpersonal communication skills in reaching out to the lost. Jesus elevated Zacchaeus by noticing him and talking to him personally. That personal outreach made Jesus to see him better, listen to him, hear his story, and know him more.
It was certainly the grace and mercy of God that brought Zacchaeus into the realm of happiness. It was the grace of God that discovered him; it was the grace of God that enabled him to have a change of heart. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the grace of God working in our lives that words are just not adequate for us to explain the wonders that are taking place in our lives. When St. Augustine was inundated by the grace of God, he asked: “What is grace? I know until you ask me; when you ask me, I do not know.” Having been converted into a new way of life, anyone in the position of Zacchaeus would begin to pray in the words of St. Augustine: “I entrust my past to your mercy; my present to your grace and my future to your providence.”
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