31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14 (see 1)
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
November 3, 2019
A few years ago, I was ministering in a parish that had a school. One of the things we would do was bring each classroom to the church for a tour. One day we brought the three-year olds from the PreK program.
As part of the tour we would put them in the pews to talk about when to sit, stand, and kneel. We showed them how to put the kneelers down. When they knelt, not a single one of them could see over the top of the pew. I couldn’t even see the top of their heads. They were too “short in stature.”
We might all relate to going to parades as kids and, if we weren’t in the front row, we couldn’t see anything because we were “short in stature.”
Those memories are from our young childhood when we were still growing. Today we hear about Zacchaeus who is full grown but still “short in stature.”
When we are “short in stature,” we might feel insignificant, like people don’t even notice us. Wisdom speaks of this in spiritual terms when it says, “Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew.” One might see the single grain or drop of dew as insignificant. We might feel insignificant before God.
Spiritually, Zacchaeus would have been seen as a sinner because he was “a chief tax collector.” As a sinner, he would have been treated as an outcast, without good spiritual status.
In earthly terms he was a wealthy man. For that he would have held some status. He would not have been insignificant and he would have been expected to act in the proper way.
When he heard that Jesus was nearby, Zacchaeus “was seeking to see who Jesus was” but being “short in stature”, he could not see through the crowds.
He may have been a sinner but his desire to see Jesus was strong enough for him to put aside decorum and run ahead to a tree which he climbed up in order to see Jesus. Decorum would have said no rich man would run or climb a tree to see someone.
Zacchaeus’ effort did not go unnoticed. Jesus tells him “come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” At Jesus’ words, Zacchaeus was filled with joy.
Why was Jesus willing to overlook Zacchaeus’ sins and have mercy on him. Because, as Wisdom says God “loves all things.” God creates us in love. God did not create and then walk away. God continues to love us and thus He continues to sustain us. God walks with us always.
Wisdom speaks of God overlooking people’s sins. Jesus did not hold Zacchaeus’ sins against him but in overlooking them, Jesus did not ignore his sins. Jesus comes to help us overcome sin. He comes, as Wisdom says to “warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”
Jesus came “to seek and to save what was lost.”
How do we expect a sinner to change if they do not come to Church and hear the gospel proclaimed?
The Jews had been taught to avoid sinners. Why? To avoid the near occasions of sin. We need to avoid what leads us to sin but this must be balanced against trying to help the sinner repent. We should not go to places that may cause us to sin but we must open the doors to our churches for any sinner who, like Zacchaeus, is seeking Jesus.
This does not mean we ignore their sins. We need to hate the sin, but love the sinner. They need to hear the Truth, the truth of right and wrong and the Truth that God loves them.
Is this not what we all want to hear, that God loves us?
Zacchaeus was seen as a sinner but allowed God to transform him. He put effort into seeking Jesus. How much effort do you put into seeking Jesus?
The reality is that we are all sinners. We are all in need of God’s mercy. We need God to make us “worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose.”