31ocHomily for Mass – Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5:30pm)

3 November 2013

[Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12:2;  Ps 144;  2 Thess 1:11-2:2;  Lk 19:1-10]

The readings at Mass on Sundays this year have led me to reflect a lot on the mercy of God, and our readings today continue that theme.  The first reading today, written in the form of a prayer spoken to God, says, “[You] overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.”  God’s mercy recognizes that it takes us time to reform our lives, to repent of sin and to turn fully to the Lord.  God doesn’t smite us the minute we offend him … but, in great forebearance, God “overlooks them” to give us time to repent – even, sometimes, permitting multiple falls – until we come to our senses.  We are warned, in other parts of the scriptures, not to use God’s patience as an opportunity for licence and to do the wrong thing.  God’s patience with us is not to be interpreted as God saying, “It doesn’t matter what you do – go ahead and do as you fancy.”  We are deceived if we think that.  No – God overlooks our sins so that we have time to repent.  The reading says further: Little by little, therefore, you correct those who offend, you admonish and remind them of how they have sinned, so that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord.  We can hear this as Good News for ourselves, and hear the ways that the Lord corrects us and admonishes us;  leading us to abstain from evil and to trust in Him.  It also says something about how we share the truth of God’s ways with others.  Little is achieved by banging people over the head with the truth – as convinced of it as we might feel.  We can be encouraged to adopt more the approach suggested by the book of wisdom … little by little to correct and admonish our brothers and sisters to abstain from evil and to turn to the Lord.

In the Second Reading Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians not to get exited or alarmed by predictions about the Day of the Lord arriving.  The truth reaffirmed in many places in the Scriptures is that we don’t know the day or the hour, either for our own death, or for when the end of the world will come with the return of Jesus.  We’re not meant to know, and we’re not meant to be distracted by such predictions.  Saint Athanasius taught, “Not to know when the end is or when the day of the end will occur is actually a good thing.  If people knew the time of the end, they might begin to ignore the present time as they waited for the end days.  They might well begin to argue that they should only focus on themselves.  Therefore, God has also remained silent concerning the time of our death… The Word has concealed both the end of all things and the time of our own death from us, for in the end of all is the end of each, and in the end of each the end of all is comprehended.  That is so that, when things remain uncertain and always in prospect, we advance day by day as if summoned.” (1)  It doesn’t matter when the “end” will come if we live each day as God calls us to live.  Today is the day that God gives each of us to embrace his will;  to repent of sin;  and to make living in his love the most important thing we do.  We should live every day as if it’s our last day on earth.

In the Gospel we meet again the familiar character of Zacchaeus: the little man up the tree trying to see Jesus.  Because this story is so popular – it seems – with children, we perhaps miss out on some of its original punch.  In describing this scene, in which Our Lord goes to the home of Zacchaeus to have a meal, one preacher says: “[h]ere is Israel’s Messiah, the human embodiment of the transcendent goodness of the Lord, entering the home of this morally squalid, almost grotesque little individual, there to eat and drink with him.  It is a vignette of the will of God to enter into the flaws of creation and transform them from within” (2).  And so, if we’re really going to “get” the message of this Gospel, then each of us needs to imagine Jesus going into the home of someone we personally despise;  someone whom we wouldn’t want anything to do with.  And as we contemplate Jesus going into that person’s home, to eat and drink with them, then we might see something of God’s mercy, and God’s will to call all people to repentance, and ultimately, to Himself.

Zacchaeus’ sin concerned money, and his greedy swindling of money as he collected taxes for the foreign occupiers.  As I thought of that, my mind turned to a much more recent figure who has become notorious because of his dealing with money.  I presume most of you have seen stories about “Bishop Bling” – the German bishop who allegedly was using Church money more for his own comfort and advantage than for the salvation of souls.  In the almost universal reaction of disgust, reported by media everywhere, perhaps we have some similarity with the figure of Zacchaeus, who also was a reviled figure for his greediness with other people’s money.  The contrast between Pope Francis, much vaunted for his simple and humble approach, on the one hand, and “Bishop Bling” on the other hand, is really a parable in itself.  And as we put the two images side by side, I want to hit the pause button and consider, “What did Jesus do?”

Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree, and went to stay at the sinner’s house, to eat and drink with him … and to bring salvation to that house that day.

Sometimes, I feel, we dodge the implications of this Gospel because we think of those whom other people despise – whom we might happen to like – and we have no difficulty imagining Jesus going to eat and drink with them.  But we need to back up, and ask, “who do I despise? who do I think has got it wrong? who do I think needs a kick up the backside?”  And that’s to whom Jesus wants to bring salvation this day.

The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.  For ourselves who so often lose our way, and foul up God’s designs, this is immeasurably good news.  Jesus has come to seek us out, and save us.  As we experience that salvation, let’s ask God to help us to share in the love of His heart, and similarly to be the vehicles through which He seeks out and saves those who are lost.

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(1)   http://opeast.org/2013/10/29/preachers-sketchbook-31st-sunday-in-ordinary-time/

(2)   Aidan Nichols OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays through the Year, Balwyn, VIC., Freedom, 2012