THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
INCREDIBLE JOY FOR BEING FORGIVEN
DO PENANCE AND BE FULLY CONVERTED
First Reading (Wis 11: 23 – 12:3): God loves all that He has made
Second Reading (2 Thes 1: 11-2:2): Christ is glorified in humanity and humanity
is glorified in Christ
Gospel (Lk 19: 1-10): Zacchaeus the tax-collector
-“Leading beasts to eat human beings (1)
-“For a long time I have not dreamed of the sage Zhou” (2)
-“Obtaining riches and honor by unrighteous acts is like a passing cloud for me” (3)
-“A man should die in the wild border of his country, have his dead body wrapped in horse hide and be buried there. How can I lie in bed and be attended by my sons and daughters? (4)
-One should repay the bounty received from the culture of one's own country so one would not be ashamed of always questioning and learning from the teachings in the books of the sages.” (5)
“Jesus said to him, ‘Zacchaeus hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ ” (Lk 19:5-10)
This is a story about a person who repented and did penance after he had encountered Jesus. If we are whole-hearted, humble, sincere, and totally open in our contacts with Jesus, he will definitely inspire, nourish, move and ultimately change us.
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man but he had a poor reputation. Because he was a tax collector, he not only worked for the imperialist Romans, and so was a ‘running dog’ of the Romans, he also collected taxes from his own people. Probably he also took a portion of the tax collection for himself, thus becoming very rich. So though he was wealthy, he had no status in society. People looked on him as a public sinner.
However, like many people he had a good heart, and when there was an opportunity he responded to what was true, good, beautiful and holy. At the time in his city the topic most talked about was the man Jesus who many said was a prophet. So Zacchaeus was determined to see Jesus and his ‘wonders.’.
In the time of Confucius, society had been in a state of disorder for a long time. Rites and ceremonies, i.e. morality, had collapsed, music corrupted. Everything was in chaos to the extent that some people actually were “leading beasts to eat men.” (1) It was in such a state of near despair that Confucius sighed, “For a long time, I have not dreamed of the sage Zhou.” (2) (Confucius meant that it was a long time since he had witnessed the ideals upheld by the sage Zhou nor experienced the prosperity of that era.). In the same way, in Jesus' time people had waited a long time for the appearance of “a man of God.” They had not yet seen fulfilled God's promise of blessings on Israel. They were longing for someone like Jesus to appear. (John the Baptist had appeared for a comparatively short time only and did not cause the stir that Jesus did.)
Zacchaeus was one of the people who was waiting for that day to come.
The Israelites' nation had been destroyed, society was in disarray. Waiting for the Messiah was like waiting for the rain clouds in a time of drought. The words of Isaiah echoed in the hearts of all the tribes of Israel: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up.” (Is 45: 8). The coming of Jesus had a resounding effect upon them. It gave a glimmer of hope to all the people of Israel.
In order to make his wish come true, Zacchaeus paid no attention to his status in society. Like an unruly child he ‘climbed up a sycamore tree’ just to find out if he could see Jesus as he passed by. The result was far beyond what he had expected. It also shocked all the people: Jesus wanted to stay in the home of Zacchaeus, the sinner!
Where Jesus is there is salvation. After Zacchaeus had encountered Jesus, he made a total turnaround. He repented and was converted completely. Wealth had been the most important thing in his life before, money had been his ‘god.’ After that day he gave up half of his possessions to the poor. Those people whom he had defrauded, he would pay back fourfold. His repentance was truly total and complete.
Zacchaeus did not make these promises under pressure. It was unlikely that he had any concept of heaven and hell, social justice, or equal distribution of property. His decisions came from the depth of his heart, welling up from within him after his encounter with Jesus. Now that he had Jesus nothing else was important. He had reached the state Confucius had described, “Obtaining riches and honor by unrighteous acts are like a passing cloud for me.” (3)
The book of the Later Han Dynasty records the chivalrous words of a famous general, Ma Yuan, “A man should die in the wild border of his country, have his dead body wrapped in horsehide, and be buried there. How can I lie in bed and be attended by my sons and daughters?” (4) Ma Yuan was a general and a patriotic warrior. He loved his country and his people and spent his life fighting to protect them. Deep within his heart he believed that he should fight and die for his country. A true general should die in battle and have his dead body wrapped up. Only such a death made life worthwhile.
Emperor Tang Jun Yi exemplified the moral integrity of the Chinese martyr. Their death was an act that “repaid the bounty received from the culture of one's own country, so one would not be ashamed of always questioning and learning from the books of the sages.” (5)
Ma Yuan and those men and women of moral integrity could do what others could not because they had grasped the meaning of life. They found support from deep within themselves. For them, everything else including money, power, even one's own life, was secondary.
Zacchaeus also found this. For him, to give up his possessions was an act of unrestrained love To encounter Jesus was the most wonderful event of his life. Whatever problems there had been before were problems no longer.
If we are unable to imitate Zacchaeus' repentance, conversion and the way in which he made full restitution, is it perhaps because we have never really had an encounter with Jesus?
Jesus, where are you? Where will you pass by? Can you help us to learn from Zacchaeus to seek you and to ‘climb a sycamore tree’ to wait for you?