02 November 2013

'I must stay at your house today.' Sunday Reflections, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Zacchaeus receives Jesus, Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho [Wikipedia]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." 

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost."

The Brothers in Black who produced Exclusive Interview with Zacchaeus, the video above, are seminarians from the USA studying in Rome.

'Zacchaeus' recounting his meeting with Jesus in the 'Exclusive Interview' above recalls, And he looked me right in the eyes. He goes on to repeat that.

In 2009, in a preface to a book on St Augustine, the then Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis, wroteThe most striking image for me of how one becomes a Christian, as it emerges in this book, is the way in which Augustine recounts and comments on Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is small, and wants to see the Lord pass, and so he climbs a sycamore. Augustine says: 'Et vidit Dominus ipsum Zacchaeum. Visus est, et vidit.' [And the Lord looked at Zacchaeus himself. He was seen, and saw.]

The then Cardinal Bergoglio comments [emphasis added here and below]: Some believe that faith and salvation come with our effort to look for, to seek the Lord. Whereas it’s the opposite: you are saved when the Lord looks for you, when He looks at you and you let yourself be looked at and sought for. The Lord will look for you first. And when you find Him, you understand that He was waiting there looking at you, He was expecting you from beforehand. 

That is salvation: He loves you beforehand. And you let yourself be loved. Salvation is precisely this meeting where He works first. If this meeting does not take place, we are not saved. We can talk about salvation. Invent reassuring theological systems that turn God into a notary and His gratuitous love into a due deed to which He is supposed to be forced by His nature. But we never enter into the People of God. Whereas, when you look at the Lord and you realize with gratitude that you are looking at Him because He is looking at you, all intellectual prejudices go away, that elitism of the spirit that is characteristic of intellectuals without talent and is ethicism without goodness.

God's mercy has been one of the main themes of Pope Francis since he became Bishop of Rome. And when you find Him, you understand that He was waiting there looking at you, He was expecting you from beforehand. These words of his while still in Buenos Aires recall the story of the Prodigal Son. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).

I've often used today's gospel in retreats with young people in the context of preparing them for the sacrament of confession. Zacchaeus publicly acknowledges that he has cheated but is ready to give back fourfold what he has cheated people of. He has a joyful face-to-face meeting with Jesus that includes a celebratory meeting.

In his homily on 25 October in St Martha's, Vatican City, Pope Francis spoke once again about confession. He reminded those present that the sacrament is not like going to a psychiatrist or to a torture chamber. He also reminds us how far too easy it is to say I confess to God. That's like confessing by email, he comments. I say things and there's no face-to-face contact. He then goes on to speak of how concrete children are when they confess their sins.

The meeting of Jesus and Zacchaeus was a deeply personal experience for both. In all his meetings with individuals Jesus gave of himself. We see that starkly in the story of the healing of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and who was cured when she touched his garment: And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, "Who touched my garments?" (Mark 5:30).

Homily of Pope Francis, 25 October 2013

Pope Francis then went on to speak of the grace of being ashamedBut if there is one thing that is beautiful, it is when we confess our sins in the presence of God just as they are. We always feel the grace of being ashamed. To feel ashamed before God is a grace. It is a grace to say: 'I am ashamed'. Let us think about St Peter after Jesus' miracle on the lake: 'Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinner'. He was ashamed of his sin in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Going to confession, the Pope said, is 'going to an encounter with the Lord who forgives us, who loves us. And our shame is what we offer him: 'Lord, I am a sinner, but I am not so bad, I am capable of feeling ashamed'.

The Holy Father concluded: 'let us ask for the grace to live in the truth without hiding anything from the Lord and without hiding anything from ourselves'.

I remember an Irish Christian Brother who taught me in my last two years of secondary school, Brother Mícheál S. Ó Flaitile. We all revered him as a saintly man. The worst 'punishment' you could get from him was a stare when you did something wrong. It made you feel the kind of shame that Pope Francis speaks about. It didn't humiliate you. It was a face-to-face encounter that made you want to be better, to be true to the reality that you were made in God's image.

Jesus is saying to each of us today by name: make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today. May each of us make haste and come down, and receive him joyfully.

Responsorial Psalm [New American Bible Lectionary]

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