October 30, 2022 –
The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus ….
Out of the 52 Sundays of the Church year, more than thirty are Sundays in Ordinary Time. When we reach these “Thirty-something” weeks, the Church’s liturgical year is drawing to a close. During these final weeks, the Church focuses on what are called “the Last Things”: that is, realities commonly associated with the end of the world. The four Last Things are Heaven, Hell, death, and judgment.
Nonetheless, the Gospel on this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time is not dramatic or apocalyptic. It’s a simple story about Jesus and a fellow of short stature named Zacchaeus. Yet the simplicity of this story helps us relate to it. We might be impressed or even awed by dramatic stories about the end times that include earthquakes, fire and brimstone. But it’s challenging—once we finish listening to those stories and return to the ordinary grind of daily life—to convince ourselves that such stories have much to do with us. The story about Zacchaeus, on the other hand, is easier for us to relate to because it’s such a humble story.
Look at Zacchaeus. He is a rich collector of taxes. Each of us, like him, is attached to worldly things. Zacchaeus (meaning you) wants to see who Jesus is, but Zacchaeus has two strikes against him.
The first strike against Zacchaeus is the crowd, because everyone wants to see Jesus. It’s easy to get lost and to feel unloved when you’re in the middle of a crowd. You might ask, “How can Jesus love everyone?” The second strike against Zacchaeus is his small size, which may represent the size of our souls. You might feel unworthy of God’s love and ask, “How could Jesus love me, as small as I am?”
That’s why Zacchaeus climbs up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus. This is all Zacchaeus wants: simply to see Jesus. But that’s not enough for Jesus. This reveals to us an important point about the spiritual life. God always wants more for us than we want for ourselves. The question, then, is whether we’re willing to do what’s needed to accept the gifts which God wants to bestow upon us.
This brings us to the turning point in the Gospel passage. When Jesus reached the place where Zacchaeus had climbed the tree, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly; for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to this individual. Likewise, just as he reached out to this little sinner, he is trying to reach into your life.
This passage illustrates the point and purpose of the spiritual life: that God would dwell within us, and from within, transform us. This is the point of listening to God in the Liturgy of the Word at Holy Mass: to come down from our self-regard and allow Jesus to enter our home—to enter our soul—in order to transform us from within through the grace of the Eucharist in Holy Communion.
In the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus offers Zacchaeus hope. Zacchaeus knew that he was coming up short in life, but he didn’t know if Jesus would offer him what he was lacking. Jesus responds by declaring, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
What was lost? The human soul was lost in Zacchaeus’s life. Or in other words, the heart of this human person was lost. Zacchaeus admits that his way of life has been dishonest. If you and I, also, can have the humility of Zacchaeus, the Lord Jesus will dwell with us. But it demands a two-part admission. Number 1: it demands admitting that apart from God, our souls are lost. Number 2: it demands admitting that Jesus has come here for us, “to seek and to save what was lost.”
Hopefully as we grow older, we also grow wiser. With that wisdom we might see that our mistakes are often God’s opportunities to enter our house, which is to say, our souls. Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” As we reflect on the best way in which to respond to God’s graciousness, we can also reflect upon another saying of Mother Teresa: “God does not call me to be successful. He calls me to be faithful.”