YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: ZACCHAEUS AND JESUS
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
ZACCHEUS THE FUNNY CHARACTER
During school days, we loved to measure and compare our heights to know how short or tall we were. In the class I was among those with a small frame of body. However, the one among us who had the smallest body-size in class was the amiable Vincent. (Vincent, I guess you are reading this reflection in America ). Vincent was not someone anyone could simply ignore. He was very smart in sport; he was socially competent and could make friends very easily. He also had the uncanny ability to engage people in lively discussions. As regards to humour you would not hesitate to rate him as a gifted child. He could easily light up any gloomy group with his many lively jokes and stories. He made a joke out of every serious thing that happened. A few years ago we met in Kaduna when he came for holiday. He was in his best element and amidst boisterous laughter he told us some of his experiences in the priesthood. He recalled how many times his small stature made people to doubt if he was really a priest or a Seminarian. He said when visitors came to his parish, they would always ask him the whereabouts of the priest and if they came at a time when he was going out, he would tell them the priest is not available and ask them to come the following day. What’s more, because of his boyish look, the police always doubted his age and consider him at first sight as a minor who was using his father’s car. Bulus is so brave and bold in any confrontation, which leaves his admirers dumbfounded and make them remember, that “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog that counts.
Like Vincent, Zacchaeus was such an interesting, funny and smart character. Fred Ash says,
Zacchaeus even liked to tell his own version of short jokes: “Did you hear about the short tax collector? The bills he handed out were longer than himself!” (That’s not funny, Zacchaeus.) Zacchaeus was so good at tax collecting that he became the chief tax collector in his town of Jericho. And he grew very, very rich…Then one day he heard about Rabbi Jesus who was teaching that God loves everyone: the black and the white, the Jew and the Roman, male and female, tall people and short people. This sounded quite interesting to Zacchaeus and he wanted to meet this Rabbi Jesus… Well, Zacchaeus was dumbfounded. He didn’t know what to say. He shimmied back down that tree and stood looking up at Jesus, who looked down at him and smiled. And Zacchaeus knew this was no joke.
ZACCHAEUS: A PROMINENT MAN ON A TREE
Zacchaeus did not mind what it cost to see Jesus. It was not normal for an adult to climb a tree just to catch a glimpse of a celebrity or some very important person. Zacchaeus had a good reason to see Jesus at any cost. He did not climb the tree to catch the attention of Jesus but just to see him. He did not care a hoot about the derogatory remarks the crowd were making while he was climbing the tree. Materially speaking, he was comfortably rich, but he noticed that his addiction to money and greed was continually making him a miserable and hated man. He observed that despite the size of his wealth he was spiritually empty. Zacchaeus whose name means ‘the righteous’ or the ‘innocent one’ was apparently not living up to the good name which his parents gave to him. His character was in direct contrast to his beautiful name. His tree climbing was a humble act, which Jesus rewarded when he said: “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” What is more, the tree he climbed can be compared to the tree of the cross which Jesus invites his followers to embrace in order to be his true disciples.
ZACCHAEUS: TRANSFORMED BY GRACE
Zacchaeus’ contact with Jesus made him a changed man. He was willing to stop his habit of overcharging taxes. He was willing to give up his addiction to greed. He was willing to pay four times everyone whom he defrauded (restitution). By so doing he was not only asking for forgiveness from God but also from individuals and the community, which he had offended. Zaccheus threw a big party to celebrate his conversion. If such thanksgiving party was to be organised today, you would guess that one of the songs that would feature in the singing list would be the ‘Amazing grace.’ It was certainly the grace 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. This is why St. Augustine retorted: “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, 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.”
31st Sunday of the Year/ Wisdom 11:22-12:22; Luke 19:9-10