To Make a Long Story Short – A Homily for the 31st Sunday of the Year

110215The Gospel today is of the familiar and endearing story of Zacchaeus, a man too short to see Jesus, who climbs the tree (of the Cross), encounters Jesus, and is changed.

The danger with familiar stories is that they are familiar and we can miss remarkable qualities. Perhaps it is well that we look afresh and search for the symbolic in the ordinary details.

I. Shortsighted Sinner Zacchaeus was physically short, and so, could not see the Lord. But let me ask you, do you think that Luke has told us this merely to indicate his physical stature? Well, I’m a preacher and I’m counting on the fact that there is more at work here than a physical description.

I suspect it is also a moral description. Zacchaeus cannot see the Lord because of the blindness sin brings. It is his moral stature that is the real cause of his inability to see the Lord. Consider some of the following texts from scripture that link sin to a kind of blindness:

  • My iniquities have overtaken me, till I cannot see. (Ps 40:12)
  • I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD (Zeph 1:17)
  • They know not, nor do they discern; for God has shut their eyes; so that they cannot see, and their minds so that they cannot understand (Is 44:18)
  • Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous, now they grope through the streets like men who are blind (Lam 4:13)
  • Unless one is born again by water and the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
  • Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8)

So sin brings blindness, an inability to see the Lord. Now Zacchaeus has fallen short through sin and hence he cannot see Jesus. “How has he sinned?” You might say. Well, he is the chief tax collector of Jericho. Tax collectors were wicked men, I tell you no lie. The Romans recruited the mobsters of that day to collect taxes. These were bad guys. They ruffed people up and extorted money from them. The Romans permitted them to charge beyond the tax as their “cut” of the deal. They were corrupt, they exploited the poor, and schmoozed the powerful. These were men who were both feared and hated, and for good reason. They were, to a man, wicked and unjust.

Zacchaeus was not just any Tax Collector, he was Chief Tax collector. He was a mafia boss, a Don, a “Godfather.” Got the picture? Zacchaeus isn’t just physically short. He’s the lowest of the low, he doesn’t measure up morally, he comes up short in terms of justice, he’s a financial giant, but a moral midget. Zacchaeus is a shrimp, well short of a full moral deck. That he cannot see the Lord is not just a physical problem, it is a moral one.

Now I am not picking on Zacchaeus. For the truth be told we are all Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus is us. You say, “Wait a minute, I’m not that bad.” Maybe, not but you’re not that good either. In fact we’re a lot closer to being like Zacchaeus that to being like Jesus. The fact that we are not yet ready to look on the face of the Lord is demonstrable by the fact that we’re still here. We’re not ready and not righteous enough to look upon the unveiled face of God. How will Zacchaeus ever hope to see the Lord? How will we? Let’s read on.

II. Saving Sycamore Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see Jesus. So must we. And the only tree that can really help us to see the Lord is the tree of the Cross. Zacchaeus has to cling to the wood of that old sycamore to climb it, and we too must cling to the wood of the old rugged cross.

Only by the wood of cross and power of Jesus’ blood can we ever hope to climb high enough to see the Lord. There is an old Latin chant that says, Dulce lignum, dulce clavos, dulce pondus sustinet (sweet the wood, sweet the nails, sweet the weight (that is) sustained). So Zacchaeus foreshadows for us the righteous that comes from the cross by climbing a tree and being able to get a glimpse of Jesus.

III. Sanctifying Savior Jesus stops by that tree, for we always meet Jesus at the cross. And there at that tree, that cross, he invites Zacchaeus into a saving and transformative relationship. It is not a surprise that Jesus invites himself for what amounts to dinner at Zacchaeus’ house. Though dinner is not mentioned here, it was just a basic aspect of Jewish hospitality. But remember, it is Jesus who ultimately serves the meal. Consider these texts:

  • Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20)
  • And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:29).
  • As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. (Luke 24:28-30)

Yes, Zacchaeus has now begun to see the Lord, and the Lord invites him into a Holy Communion, a relationship and a liturgy that will begin to transform him. And Zacchaeus is us. We too have begun to see the Lord through the power of the Cross to cast out our blindness and the Lord draws us to sacred Communion with him. The liturgy and Holy Communion are essential for this, as the Lord invites himself to our house, that is to say, our soul and our parishes.

IV. Started Surrender Zacchaeus is experiencing the start of a transformative relationship. But this is just the start. Note that Zacchaeus promises to return four-fold the money he has extorted and also to give half his money to the poor. Now there’s an old song that says, “I surrender all….” but Zacchaeus isn’t quite there yet, and, probably most of us aren’t either.

Eventually Zacchaeus will surrender all, and so will we. But in time. For now he needs to stay near the cross to see and continue to allow Jesus to have communion with him. One day all will be surrendered.

So here is the start for Zacchaeus and us. The best is yet to come. You might say, that the Gospel ends here to make a long story short 🙂

This sermon is recorded in mp3 here:

This song says, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the master of the sea heard my desparing cry and from the waters lifted me, now safe am I. Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, love lifted me!”

19 Replies to “To Make a Long Story Short – A Homily for the 31st Sunday of the Year”

    1. Without the Tree of the Cross there is no redemption. Without the Tree of the Cross the gates of Heaven will not open. Without the Tree of the Cross there is no resurrection. The Tree of the Cross is the Tree of Life!
      This theology is coming soon to a parish near you. Let’s end the Year of the Faith with a Bang shall we?

  1. I always felt that tax collectors were not hated because of their shady financial dealings. The thing that was morally reprehensible was that they were traitors, in league with Rome. They are collaborators with the worst dictators that ever appeared in Jewish History.

    1. Yes, traitors and collaborators, but most especially because the tax revenues they collected went in part to the maintenance of the shrines and statues and altars of pagan Roman gods. This–the refusal to bow before pagan gods–was the heart of the Jewish attitude of revolt against Rome. We are now asked to pay taxes to support mandated contraceptive and abortion services to the new Rome, the one on the Potomac. Would that we had the courage of our spiritual elder brothers.

  2. “So sin brings blindness, an inability to see the Lord.” And worse, perhaps, speaking for myself: a chronic lack of awareness of one’s own blindness. Lately I feel that the Eucharistic vision in my mind’s eye is a beacon that saves me from yet another relapse into not only blindness but cluelessness. (It is ever possible in any case that “cluelessness” is only cowardly abdication of judgment, which makes me that much more needful, now and always, of grace and the Sacraments.)

  3. “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.” This statement is like a ledger sheet. According to his account, first he kept half then he gave 4-fold, meaning that Zachaeus gave it all away. He not only promised it but did it. Beautiful analogy to Abraham’s faith.

  4. I am Zaccheus. I am one of those who grumble too. So I am more wicked than Zaccheus and those who grumble, for I am both. Miserere!!! Thanks, Monsi for letting me realize this. I beat my breast because I am worst. Yet, GOD Loves me. Hehehe. It is good that I learn of this that I may remember this in time of trouble of sinning. That I may cherish HIS great mercy on me and my family. Praise GOD for HIS Mercy endures forever.

  5. ” Note that Zacchaeus promises to return four-fold the money he has extorted and also to give half his money to the poor.”–The text doesn’t say that Zacchaeus PROMISED to do that, but that he was ALREADY doing that: Luke 19:8: “But Zacchaeus stood upright and said to the Lord, Here and now, Lord, I give half of what I have to the poor; and if I have wronged anyone in any way, I make restitution of it fourfold.” This implies that Zacchaeus had been baptised by John the Baptist, heard his preaching, and had heeded his words: Luke 3:12: “The publicans, too, came to be baptized; Master, they said to him, what are we to do? 13 He told them, Do not go beyond the scale appointed you.”

      1. I think the key word is “today”. Zacchaeus truly had been doing all those things, but is only on that “today” does salvation come to his house. Maybe it because when Jesus tells him to climb down from the tree, Zacchaeus ” . . . came down with all haste, and gladly made him welcome (Luke 19:6)”. I have no idea what a ‘grammatical’ is, in the sense you are using the word. I agree with what you say about the sycamore tree being also a figure of the cross and you said that well. Zacchaeus also recalls Moses who climbed up into the cleft of a rock to see that back parts of God pass by. (Also Zacchaeus being small in stature recalls Moses, in that Moses was the most meek of men.) In this sense, the story of Zacchaeus shows that with Jesus our relationship with God changes radically: “. . . Zacchaeus, he said, make haste and come down; I am to lodge to-day at thy house. (Luke 19:5)” The earlier part of that verse says, ” Jesus, when he reached the place, looked up and saw him. . . (Luke 19:5)” The idea of God looking up at anything is astounding.

        1. On Sunday, I heard that sycamore trees are very difficult to climb.

          Efforts are rewarded.

  6. The point that jumped out at me the most was the quote, “Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous, now they grope through the streets like men who are blind (Lam 4:13)” The Blood of the Lamb seems to have been precursed by the blood of the righteous which is reported time and again in the Old Testament. Not that their blood could compare to the Blood of the Lamb but, ’twas apparently a lead in.
    Christ’s mission on Earth was so subjective in so many ways, including not only the sharing of His Holy Blood with us (as the righteous had) but, also His 30+ year subjective existance with us – beginning with a very uncomfortable birth – transcends reports of pagan gods who made short and comfortable visits.
    Christ’s subjective prescense (including the cross) led to such things as redemption that was intimately available – beginning with such people as Zacchaeus and right through to us today.
    This so seems to tie in with the feeling that came upon me last Sunday at mass while, the communion was being prepared, of how; in the final stages of Mary’s pregnancy; how the blood of a human mother and the blood of the fetus have an intimacy. I don’t know how much the two circulatory systems interact but I easily visualized Mary and even visualized inside her to a glimpse of some sort of unity of Hsi Blood and hers. So comfotring it was.

  7. The challenge is to know ourselves as Jesus knows us. The opinions, prejudices of others are not the foundation in which we can “judge” ourselves, although they can be an indicator to examine. Paul says he is judged by no one and does not even judge himself but looks to God for His Perfect Judgment to direct him Perfectly. So Jesus knew Zacchaeus better than all those who “judged” him and hated him. Jesus knew Zacchaeus’ heart so well as to dine with him, a shock to all those who thought they knew the heart of Zacchaeus by his many many sins. Their mistake was not in judging the sins of Zacchaeus but in judging the heart of Zacchaeus. This is why we never give up on seemingly lost souls, and we never give up on ourselves either… we judge right from wrong but we Love with the Love of Jesus and trust in His most Perfect Knowledge of the heart, to ask Him to show us in the Light of Himself all our sins that we too may repent.

  8. The thought occurred to me on Sunday that the Zacchaeus story and the Pharisee/tax collector in the temple story (“Thank you that I am better than that guy over there” vs “have mercy on me, a sinner”) are somehow connected. Did Jesus “see” Zacchaeus praying in the temple beforehand? (similar to when He ‘saw’ Nathaniel under the fig tree) Is that why Zacchaeus was intent on seeking Him out? He undoubtably had heard something about ‘The Teacher’ at some point.

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