31st Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: Let me invite Jesus into my heart and let Him transform me.
For those of us who come to church every Sunday; serve in church ministries; donate to charities; send our children to Christian schools; and practise our faith in many different ways, how do we view others who are not like us? How do I view someone who is not as righteous as me? How do I view a non-believer who does not go to church like me; or another Christian who does not live an active faith life like me? Have I indulged myself in such complacency that I believe I am heaven-bound and not the other person?
In Jesus’ times, the tax collectors are a despised lot. Not only did they act as agents of a foreign regime; as was often the case, they often over-taxed the people so that they may keep the excess for themselves. This week’s Gospel tells the conversion story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a rich person and a sinner. Zacchaeus was also a very short man. However, in his yearning to see Jesus, Zacchaeus forewent his status, climbed up a tree so that he could see Jesus from afar. On witnessing his faith, our Lord invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ house. On witnessing this, others started to grumble, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” (verse 7) For those of us who practise our faith, this is often how we view others who are not like us. Filled with self-righteousness, we too make the same mistake, when God’s mercy and grace is extended to someone we feel is not as worthy as us. Rather than being judgemental, let us instead reflect on our own failings. Rather than being self-righteous, let me acknowledge that I am no different from Zacchaeus, that I too am a sinner. As Zacchaeus forewent his status to climb up a sycamore tree, let me too put my pride aside to take that extra step to reach out to Jesus for his grace and mercy.
God’s mercy and grace for you and me are put into context as the First Reading exalts the grandeur of God and marvel at His mercy and love (verse 11:22-24). In God’s eye, in spite of the world being so small that it is “like a speck” and “like a drop of morning dew” (verse 22), God nevertheless showers upon the world his endless mercy and love. As insignificantly small as we are, God loves us unconditionally; patiently guides us on the path of righteousness; and is always ready to pardon our sins: “You correct little by little those who trespass, and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin, so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you” (verse 12:2). What mercy! What love!
In the Gospel story, the invitation of Jesus brought about a conversion in Zacchaeus, who promised to give half of his wealth to the poor and generously compensate anyone he had wronged. Through this story, we see the teachings of the First Reading in action – we see how a patient God guides a wayward Zacchaeus to the path of righteousness. Whatever our failings are, like Zacchaeus, we too have the opportunity to invite Jesus into our house – the house of our hearts. Let us cast aside our pride, our self-righteousness and our complacency, open ourselves to Jesus and let him convert our hearts. And whatever wrongs we may have done in our past, never think that we are unworthy of the Lord. As Jesus said to his critics in the story, Zacchaeus too was a son of Abraham and was deserving of His grace. Like Zacchaeus, regardless of the sins we have committed, we remain the sons and daughters of God, worthy of His promises. As the First Reading teaches, “You spare all things, for they are yours” (Wis 11:26).
In the Second Reading this week, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to dispel some myths regarding the end of the world. Some Thessalonians believed that the end of the world was imminent and many did not want to work. In the Second Reading, Paul dispelled the myth and urged these followers not to get too excited, or be alarmed by any false predictions. As workers in God’s vineyard, we must not make the same mistake of complacency. As long as we have the means and the ability, we must never cease our work – especially our work to act as instruments of conversion; and administer to the Zacchaeus’ of our times. Let us reflect on who are Zacchaeus’ of my life – is it a friend, a family member perhaps? Or indeed, it could even be myself.