HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN THE ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR C. NOVEMBER 3, 2019.
First reading: Wis 11:22-12:2
Psalm: Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
Second reading:2 Thess 1:11-2:2
Gospel: Luke: 19:1-10
” Otherwise grace is no more grace,” since it is bestowed on us, not because we have done good works, but that we may be able to do them”
– St. Augustine
My dearest brethren, I welcome you in the peace of Christ. Today is the 31st Sunday and the first Sunday in the month of November. Happy new month and may the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
The readings of today especially the gospel remind us of the transforming power of the grace of God who came to save sinners and how this grace produces the fruit of repentance in the lives of those that encounter Him.
One of my greatest worries about Christianity in the 21century is that it produces a version of Christians who are unaffected by the ‘grace’ they have received. Yes, we are all baptized and have all received and continues to receive the grace of God in the sacraments but the fruits of these graces often don’t manifest in the lives of many of us. We have a version of Christians today who: “the more they go to church the more hardened sinners they become”. Why did I choose the theme of today’s reflection as “when grace locates you”? It is because the story of Zacchaeus demonstrates to us what it means to be located and transformed by the grace of God.
Jokes: Zacchaeus’ act of climbing the sycamore tree, reminds me how as a child, my mother would hide important things at an elevation ( usually on top of the concrete wardrobe) to keep them beyond my reach. It worked for her for some time, until I devised a strategy. On one occasion, I arranged seats one on top of the other to provide an elevated platform which enabled me to climb and see what she had hidden there. Luck ran out of me the day she caught me and as Jesus ordered Zacchaeus, she ordered me to climb down but unlike Zacchaeus, I received strokes of the cane. From that day she realized that her things are no longer safe on top of the wardrobe. Smiles. This childhood story reminds me of two motivating factors, namely: “Curiosity” and “desire”. When people are curious about something, they can go any length to get it; likewise when they are desirous of something. Zaccheus in today’s Gospel was moved to see Jesus either because of curiosity or that he most likely had not been altogether happy with his practice of extorting undue tax money from people. His conscience was ill at ease. Maybe he was longing for something higher and nobler. There are some folks who have tried a variety of drugs, alcohol, and marital infidelity—and they are finding that those lifestyles are meaningless and hollow. They sense that there must be more to life than what they are experiencing—and deep down within, they want some answers.
In spite of his wealthy status, he humbled himself to climb a sycamore tree; His short stature was also another reason. It is unheard of a wealthy man climbing a tree in African culture; Tree climbing is for children and young adults. So, this is an act of humility in Zacchaeus though he is not of African descent. This act, signals his deep desire for something greater than his wealth. Zacchaeus demonstrated, how we can overcome barriers to encounter God. Your barriers could be family, relationship, culture, work or anything that keeps you from coming closer to God. When you form the habit of given endless excuses for not drawing closer to God, you are simply asserting how insincere and unserious you are with the things of God. You can break any barrier to worship and come into the presence of God. Stop giving excuses.
Zacchaeus was located by grace. He did not locate Jesus. He simply made himself available to be located ( seen) and Jesus locates him. A person has to make himself or herself available to be touched by God. Grace locates those who seek it, it is a free gift of God not merited by human efforts.
The fruit of God’s grace is its transforming power. It builds on nature and elevates the natural into the spiritual realm; such that a man or woman ceases to be a natural but a spiritual being. In the life of Zacchaeus, it was a transformation from a sinful tax collector to a repentant sinner. Those who come close to God are transformed by His redeeming grace.
Jesus welcomes sinners and does not isolate them. This idea is captured in the first reading which says: “O Lord and lover of the soul…, you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!” Turning away from sin and wickedness is what the grace of God should produce in the lives of those who encounter Jesus. His grace redeems us from sin and strengthens us in righteousness and in good deeds.
Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus who Summoned him down from the tree, evoked a sense of repentance and gratitude in him. He didn’t say Lord forgive me I am a sinner, but confessed inwardly and demonstrated it in his words when he says: Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor” (v. 8a). Remember that in Luke 18:22 Jesus asked the rich man to sell his possessions and to give them to the poor, but in the case of Zacchaeus, He asks nothing but his hospitality. Zacchaeus volunteers to give half of his wealth to the poor and to make fourfold restitution to anyone whom he has defrauded. Zacchaeus does not make this offer to win Jesus’ approval but to show his gratitude. He is not trying to win salvation but is instead responding to the presence of the Savior. He is bearing “fruits worthy of repentance” (3:8).
As this year draws to an end, many in business and public offices are struggling to meet up with their financial goals for Christmas festivities and therefore this is a “temptation peak time” for many to cheat and defraud others to make ends meet. Here today, we see a tax collector returning what he unjustly took from others. You may not be as fortunate as Zacchaeus or experience his type of encounter with Jesus. So, it is better you avoid extorting, cheating or defrauding others this season. Prevention they say, is better than a cure. Be rest assured that when grace locates you, your blessings will surely come.” He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
In this Mass, may God’s grace transform us to bear the fruit of sincere repentance.
Prayer: My dearest Saviour, you came to call sinners like me back to you. Fill me with your transforming grace and let your grace, produce fruits of sincere repentance in my life. Amen.
©Clem C. Aladi