I. Homily – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Zacchaeus
II. Zacchaeus spent the first half of his life…alone.
A. St. Luke tells us that he was a wealthy man and a tax-collector…he was dishonest and defrauded at least some…however, it seems that this was a way of life for him.
1. The scripture does not tell us that it was the scribes and pharisees who grumbled when our Lord spoke to Zacchaeus…it was not simply some in the crowd…it was not simply most of the crowd…St. Luke tells us that “ALL GRUMBLED” against him…all grumbled.
2. Zacchaeus had set himself against all those he encountered…he had set himself in opposition to them and they had returned the favor.
B. Zacchaeus had struggled to see.
1. He struggled to see because he was small in stature and could not see over the crowd…this is true…his vision was not impaired…there was just too much in the way.
2. Zacchaeus could not see, because there was too much in the way for him to see.
3. So…he climbed a tree…he climbed sycamore tree which was one of the tallest and oldest and longest lived trees on earth…
4. And, then, he could see Jesus Christ.
C. After he made this effort to see the Lord…after he had placed himself on a tree, he not only saw our Lord…he met him and our Lord told him that he was going to make his home with him.
1. Our Lord was not simply speaking with Zacchaeus…he was going to enter his most intimate place…where no one had ever entered before…no one had been allowed to enter and no one had wanted to enter…Jesus entered…
2. And what was the result…
3. Not simply did he convert…not simply did he change…not simply did he make restitution four-fold…he was no longer setting himself in opposition to his fellow citizens of Jericho. It was not simply that he saw that money was not the most important thing and so he gave it away…he began to love and it was there that he was truly happy…perhaps for the first time in his life.
4. What is most interesting, however, is that those against whom Zacchaeus had set himself…his fellow citizens of Jericho…began to grumble not simply at Zacchaeus’ dishonesty…they grumbled when he began to live the life of Christ…when he changed into a religious man.
a) Perhaps this was disbelief in the sincerity of his conversion…
b) Perhaps this was lack of willingness to forgive on their part…
c) But, it may have also been their realization that if Zacchaeus changes…then so must they…
d) This is the hard thing isn’t it…it is easy to do the right thing when we can point at someone else doing the wrong thing…but when this excuse is taken away…then it is time to change ourselves…
III. Could the tree Zacchaeus climbed be a sign of the cross and his home be his soul?
A. Could the tree be the fact that once Zacchaeus gave up himself, then Jesus Christ was able to take possession of him?
B. The problem for us too is that following Jesus Christ means that we are not the center, but when we give it all up we find that we gain everything.
1. We can easily put many, many things ahead of Christ…
2. In the end, there are a great many things that prevent us from seeing…like Zacchaeus…and that crowd who could only see someone who had hurt them…
IV. There is a bronze sculpture that stands in front of the Cathedral of Cologne, Germany, of what appears to be three women.
A. In fact, it is really a sculpture of one woman…at three different periods in her life.
B. She is first depicted as seated holding a Star of David and leaning on it…beginning to struggle with her Jewish faith.
C. The second figure depicts a woman with a divide between her two halves…clearly she is divided in her thinking not sure which way to go…she was a great philosopher of the last century who had studied under the Father of Phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, and worked closely with the likes of Martin Heidegger…but in this second phase…her thoughts were divided…between Christianity and skepticism…
D. The third figure…is the most striking of all…it is of this woman walking away from the other two…her back turned to them…carrying a crucifix with both hands…and she is wearing the habit of a Carmelite Nun.
E. This is Edith Stein who would follow the intellectual road from Judaism to phenomenology to Christianity but whose clash with Atheistic humanism, the denial of God, would cost her life in the Auschwitz death camp in August 1942.
F. To the eyes of the world, she lost. But she now lives in the glory of heaven for eternity, canonized with her religious name, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, by Blessed Pope John Paul on October 11, 1998.
G. Her last book was entitled, “The Science of the cross,” as she took the name…Theresa Benedicta of the cross.
H. We tend to shy away from the cross…Zacchaeus shied away from the cross…but as soon as they embraced it, they found true peace and happiness…not only in the next life but even here and now.
V. What does this story have to do with Zacchaeus, his tree and us?
A. We are never alone when we love Christ.
B. Pope Francis told the crowds shortly after he was elected:
1. “The Church, in her most profound truth, is communion with God, intimacy with God, a communion of love with Christ and with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which extends to brotherly communion. This relationship between Jesus and the Father is the “matrix” of the bond between us Christians: if we are intimately part of this “matrix”, this fiery furnace of love, then we can truly become of one single heart and one single soul among us. For God’s love burns away our selfishness, our prejudices, our interior and exterior divisions. The love of God even burns away our sins.”
C. St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was never alone…she was able to do what she did, because she knew in every corner of her being that Jesus Christ was with her…from the first moment of her life…and that her end will never come because she is now living for eternity in the full communion of saints…
D. Zacchaeus was never again alone…
1. Jesus Christ had come and made his home with him, but he did something that all human beings find difficult…he made a change…he realized that it was not he who would determine the shape of his belief in Christ…but Christ who would form HIM.
2. Jesus did not force himself on Zacchaeus…Jesus did not change Zacchaeus against his will…Jesus entered and stayed, because he knew he was a welcome guest with Zacchaeus had finally opened his heart to the Lord.
3. This is the big challenge…to allow Christ to form us instead of telling Christ what we are going to believe about Him.
E. The atheistic humanist no longer runs death camps, instead the atheistic humanist teaches us that the only obstacle to human freedom is religion…the only obstacle to human freedom is the Bible…the only obstacle to human freedom and advancement are the backward ideas of believers.
1. We hear, read or witness this all the time.
2. We are saturated with it.
3. And, yet, this is the surprise…the surprise that this perspective still exists…it is no surprise that the love of Christ endures…it is no surprise that you are all seated here in Church receiving the Most Holy Eucharist…this is not the surprise…for this message is one of faith and hope and love…
VI. It is not a surprise that Zaccheaus and St. Theresa Benedicta of the cross and Blessed Pope John Paul are free, because they believed and loved and allowed their lives to be formed by the same Christ who will soon make his home with us here on this altar.
A. The surprise is that there are still those who believe true freedom is only obtained by minimalizing Christ and diminishing faith.
B. So, let us profess our faith…let us hope in God…let us love as Christ loved…let us be patient but not hesitate to believe.