Zacchaeus- the tax-collector teaches us a lesson

Homily for 31st Sunday in Ordinary time year C 2013

zacchaeus_jesusNo one who meets Jesus ever stays the same’, says Philip Yancey, an American Christian writer in his Book ‘The Jesus I Never Knew.’  Yancey continues: ‘Jesus has rocked my own preconceptions and has made me ask hard questions about why those of us who bear his name don’t do a better job of following him.

Perhaps Zacchaeus in our gospel today, could say the same thing too that “no one who meets Jesus remains the same”, because he really experienced it. There was really a change happening in his life.

And the Good News for us today is that the story of Zacchaeus is not only a story in the past, or in the time of Jesus. The story of Zacchaeus is also our story, right here, right now. This gospel is an invitation for us to celebrate God’s love, to experience God’s mercy and to renew our commitment to Christ and his message. To respond to this invitation though we need to make ourselves available for God. We need to open the door of our hearts for God to come in. We need to empty ourselves for God’s grace to fill in.

So how we could respond to this invitation? Three things:

First, is to make an effort to see Jesus- to meet Jesus in a more real and personal way even if it looks ridiculous in the eyes of the world. Zacchaeus climbed up a tree not primarily to get the attention of Jesus, but to see him personally. And thanks to all of you, especially our young people here for making the effort not only to see Jesus tonight in this mass, but to experience his presence and to receive him as our food in the Eucharist. This is also our challenge today. There are many things or situations that blocked our way from seeing Jesus.

I have heard people saying that as they got up from bed before,  they would offer a short prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of life, but now instead of praying, the first thing they’d do is to check their Facebook or Twitter. These are just some of the things that blocked our way to see Jesus in our lives- the kind of things that give us false assurances, false securities, false hopes- that once accumulated leaving us more empty than before. Our call today, we need to see over those things. We need to overcome all those and then we see Jesus in persons- maybe through someone who is grieving and needing a listening ear, maybe through some families who couldn’t pay their rent, maybe  a friend whose spouse is in the hospital. Zacchaeus made an effort to climb up a tree to see Jesus from the vantage point of view. This could also mean ‘prayer’ or lifting up of ourselves before God. Prayer always helps us not only to see the real situation or mess we are in, but to get out of it.

The second is to accept who we really are and as sinners before God. Again, we can learn from Zacchaeus. He was short in stature and he couldn’t do anything about it, but he could do something with it. It is a task for us to do today, because our time is characterized by ‘IMAGES’, perfect image, perfect body, Australia’s Next top model, someone with an X-Factor, or someone who’s got talent or someone with ‘the voice’. What about if we don’t have those aspects in our lives? Zacchaeus couldn’t do anything about his being short in stature, but he did something with it- that might have helped him to climb the tree quicker.

Another thing we can learn from Zacchaeus is that he didn’t let the people’s perception on him block his way nor stop him to see Jesus. As a  tax-collector, he really couldn’t avoid the common perception that he was a cheat, a traitor for the Jews, an extortionist if you like. Let them think about him that way, but that didn’t stop him to go to Jesus, to acknowledge his being a ‘cheat’ if you like before Jesus and to do something about it. This is a good thing about accepting who we truly are because through this we can also what we are capable of- that we are capable of doing good, noble and honest things not only for ourselves but for others.

Third is to listen to Jesus’ words Come down and I will have dinner at your house.’ This is a call for us to make a place for Jesus in our homes, in our lives, in our hearts. This means we let God be in the picture of our life. This means we look for God for the answers the questions in life we have, not to google it. If Christ is alive in us, real conversion occurs, and all other things we have, would pale in comparison or even fade into the background. Zacchaeus had realized this that ‘he stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ Wow, what a resolve! It just goes to show that if we experienced real conversion and real relationship with Christ, things, possessions, fame, or popularity wouldn’t matter anymore.

So as we continue our celebration of the mass today, let us ask ourselves: What effort are we taking to celebrate God’s love,  to experience God’s mercy and to renew our commitment to Christ and his message? Zacchaeus did it by making an effort to see Jesus, by being true to himself before him and by welcoming Jesus into his home-his life.

How about us? What effort are we taking?