November 3, 2019 – Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11:22-12:2 / 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 / Luke 19:1-10
Homily originally delivered in 2016 at St. Pius X in Indianapolis.
I might be the only one who sees this, but as I read the familiar gospel story of Zacchaeus, the image of another popular character kept popping into my head. Zacchaeus seems to have quite a bit in common with The Grinch of Dr. Seuss fame. (I said I might be the only one…)
For example, Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector. He was also the chief sinner and the townspeople wanted nothing to do with him.
It was said of The Grinch, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.”
Zacchaeus extorted the people, stealing their money.
The Grinch stole all the Christmas presents and decorations, including the candy cane of little Cindy Lou Who.
Zacchaeus experienced conversion, coming down quickly and receiving Jesus with joy.
The Grinch experienced conversion, and it is said that his heart grew three sizes that day.
We’ll come back to conversion and the changing of hearts later.
Luke wrote in his gospel: Zacchaeus 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.
It would appear that his sole motivation was a desire to see Jesus. However, I believe there was more to it.
I’m sure you have seen this safety decal on many trucks. It says, “Warning: If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.”
Yes, Zacchaeus needed to see Jesus, but he also needed Jesus to see him.
The question is, Why?
Why did Zacchaeus need to see Jesus? and Why did he need Jesus to see him?
Here is my theory on the first question. Jesus had made quite a name for Himself as He traveled from town to town, teaching and preaching. He built up a substantial number of followers.
He was unlike other prophets. Scripture tells us that people noticed Jesus “spoke with authority.” In other words, He didn’t tell people of God’s hope for the world. He told them specifically what needed to happen, how they needed to live their lives. He made many uncomfortable with such talk, yet they were still drawn to Him.
Jesus was captivating. He spoke of people being more important than things and love being more important than success. His definition of riches centered on the Kingdom of Heaven, not on what people accumulated here on earth.
Jesus’ reputation and message preceded Him. Zacchaeus was, by earthly standards, an extremely rich, successful, and powerful man. Yet, he was moved by this new message. The words of Jesus touched his heart.
He began to question his priorities. He felt guilt and remorse. Reflecting on his life was suddenly a painful endeavor. He had doubts about everything he knew as real in his life. While it was disconcerting, there were seeds of joy planted as well. There was a hint of excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead. Zacchaeus had never felt that way before and he didn’t understand it.
When he heard Jesus was coming through Jericho, he didn’t just want to see Him, he needed to see him. Words were just words, he needed to see the man who spoke those words in order to make them come to life. He didn’t care what it looked like for the chief tax collector of the town to run to the sycamore tree and begin to climb.
He needed to see Jesus.
The second question is: Why did Zacchaeus need Jesus to see him?
To know of Jesus, or to see Him from a distance, was not enough. What was stirring in Zacchaeus was the desire for a relationship with Him. He needed Jesus to really know him, to look into his heart and see the real Zacchaeus – not the powerful chief tax collector, but rather the lonely man who was hurting inside.
He needed to re-prioritize his life, and eliminate the pangs of guilt and the pain he was feeling. He wanted to explore those seeds of joy and that sense of excitement he felt.
He needed to be loved and forgiven, and that happened for him almost immediately.
Upon seeing Zacchaeus, Jesus said to him, Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
Zacchaeus’ heart grew three sizes that day.
He received Jesus with joy because it was clear that Jesus wanted a relationship too.
Years of pain poured out. He told Jesus, 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.
Because Jesus touched his heart, Zacchaeus took the next step. He sought out Jesus, laid his sins at His feet, and resolved to live a better life in the future.
In return, Jesus offered forgiveness, saying: “Today salvation has come to this house…For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Compassion and mercy – the Sacrament of Reconciliation revealed. Conversion takes place.
What is keeping you from seeking Jesus? What is keeping you from climbing up that tree for the opportunity to see and be seen? What is keeping you from building a relationship with Him?
Is it your focus on accumulating earthly wealth? You spend all your time and effort on your job so that you can make more money and acquire more things, so there is no time left for Jesus?
Is it fear that keeps you from seeking Jesus? Seeing Jesus and having Him as part of your everyday life will mean acknowledging that you are no longer in control. His will be done is an unsettling option.
Is it shame? Your sinful life has piled layer upon layer of guilt and shame on you. You don’t see Jesus because you don’t want to see Jesus. And you certainly don’t want Jesus to see you. He could not possibly love someone as unlovable as you, right?
Allow Jesus to touch your heart. Like Zacchaeus, receive Him with joy. In return, you will be shown compassion and mercy.
Who knows, maybe your heart will grow three sizes that day.