Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a wealthy man. Right away we know that he was therefore a collaborator with the Romans and collected Roman taxes and received a commission for doing so. Being a chief tax collector, meant that he employed others to collect the taxes and added in his fees and commissions. The gospel tells us Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus and wanted to see and know about him. Like bystanders even today, he ran ahead and climbed a tree so he could see Jesus without a crowd in front of him. Jesus as we have seen over the past weeks’ gospels was ever looking for those who were lost and looking for the way. As he came to the sycamore tree, he stopped and called Zacchaeus to come down and be his host for dinner. While Zacchaeus rejoiced, the crowd murmured about Jesus associating with a sinner. Zacchaeus promised to give half his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he might have defrauded 4 times over. Both of these actions would have been extraordinary in Jesus’ time. Despite whether Zacchaeus was righteous or was converted at that time, Jesus points out that he is a descendant of Abraham and is one to whom he has come to call to his kingdom. Zacchaeus has gotten salvation because he has learned generosity and giving to those who are poor and in need and in being fair in his daily transactions.
Once again, we have to realize that salvation can be blocked only if we put ourselves in the way. How we relate to others is important and loving and treating others with proper respect and understanding is important. We must learn the same love and respect for others that we have for ourselves. Part of giving to others is to also listen and receive. All of us have been called to a heavenly journey, yet it is not something we need to do alone. Community or church was founded by Christ so that we need not be alone. Community and sharing is integral to Christianity. More importantly he has given us his Body and Blood as a special food and his Spirit to guide us on the way. It is what we share when we gather. For this we give thanks and work so that we will not lose our way.
Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct 30)
I love it when I get to preach on Good News that is really good news for all of us. Today’s readings are all beautiful and uplifting, hopeful and encouraging. Too often we are drawn to look at the dark side of our faith, at sin and the fallen world. It is all part of the larger picture, but I particularly appreciate the virtue of hope that we are given.
St. Paul talks about God calling us and we being worthy of that call, and that we we can glorify God in our resolutions and good works, not to live in depression (shaken in mind) or fear (alarm) but to realize that the day of the Lord is also here right now. We can bring about some of the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
And what could be more beautiful than the reading from Wisdom today talking about how God is so infinite and immense and yet he cares about us, and overlooks our sins. We hear how God loves every bit of creation, loves every created thing for the simple reason – why would God create something he didn’t like??
We also hear in Wisdom how God’s spirit animates every living thing, that God loves life! “You spare all things, Lord, “ says Wisdom, “for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.”
God has infinite patience with us, teaching his Law little by little, giving it in small chunks, as to a child. And we made add, when we have matured into adults, so has the Law because Jesus refines it for us in our maturity. Wisdom makes a final statement that it is in this way that we learn to trust in God, and of course, trusting someone is the whole point of a good relationship, isn’t it?
Even the Psalm today expresses the optimism of the other readings. “The Lord is good to all,” the Psalmist proclaims, and has compassion for every created creature. And to give image to the idea of trusting God in our relationship, the Psalm closes with “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. Such images of caregiving!
And lest we think that God only cares about the poor, we get a story in the Gospel of Luke now where a rich man is saved.
We might be reminded right away of the story of the rich man Lazarus we had read to us a few weeks ago. That story of a rich man didn’t end too well. This time not so much!
This is a story about yet another tax collector, very unpopular people in Jesus’ time, and I suppose not so popular today either if you get a call from one. This isn’t just an ordinary tax collector, however. This is a “chief” tax collector which might mean that he is heavily implicated in a corrupt system that makes the collector profit from the poverty of others. We might think today of a CEO in a very corrupt company. I immediately thought of the CEO of the drug company that raised the prices on a medicine recently, basically making it unaffordable, or breaking the pocketbooks of the people that most need it. Fred B Craddock in his “Interpretation” of Luke says: “No-one can be privately righteous while participating in and profiting from a program that robs and crushes other person.” (p. 218)
It is important for us to see that this man, even if he appeared outwardly righteous, was immorally stealing from the poor by raising the tax amounts and skimming off the extra for themselves.
So why does Zacchaeus want to see Jesus so badly that with his short stature, he climbs a tree to get a good look. Perhaps he had heard that Jesus was a friend to sinners, or even to tax collectors, I find it interesting that first, Jesus knew him by name, and secondly, Jesus didn’t wait for an invitation, but in fact, invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home. It seems that Zacchaeus really was thrilled about it though and welcomed him gladly.
Whatever happened at that meal at Zacchaeus’ house, it brings about a change in Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus voluntarily offers to make restitution for the wrongs he has done. In other words, he seems to have been given the grace to see his misdeeds and immoral way of life and to repent of it. He actually goes beyond what the Bible says he should do for voluntary restitution.
One final point of note that is something you may not have thought of before. Jesus says to Zacchaeus that salvation has come to his house. Jesus wants to remind us that repentance does not just affect the one repenting. Luke always makes a big thing about family and community. Zacchaeus’s whole house is blessed and graced by his act of repentance His whole house is saved. And that extends even further because in his repentance he is giving money to the poor, and so they will profit by it as well. Repentance reaches out and affects others as well.
The final statement of the Gospel – “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost” – may remind us of the parable of the lost sheep, but who are the lost? I believe it is anyone who lost his or her way. We have all been lost at times, we have all suffered depression, death of loved ones, fears founded or unfounded, anxiety in our troubles times. Jesus came to find you, to lift you as you are falling, to straighten your body to carry on. This is such great news, and why I love the readings today so much. They give great hope and build my trust in God. I know they will do the same with you if you take the time to look at them and think about them.
And this IS the Good News we celebrate today as Luke leads Jesus closer and closer to his destiny in Jerusalem. God bless.
Note: Whole there may be some postings of homilies, for the next three years I will not be publishing a weekly homily so that I can attend to other things I am doing. My two books contain homilies for each of the Sundays for the next three years, so you might want to have a look at those.
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]
Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct 23)
Last week I mentioned to you that there were two stories side by side in Luke’s Gospel in this chapter, both about prayer. When Luke does that, he usually means them to be read together because somehow they will comment on each and affect our perception of them when looked at together. Unfortunately we got one last week and one this week, thus thwarting Luke’s original plan. One of the problems of doing little snippets of a Gospel each week!
Just as a reminder, last week we heard the parable of the unjust judge who was badgered by the woman into getting what she wanted by her her persevering and never letting go.
But when we see these two readings next to each other, we also can see that both of these stories are about the need for prayer.
Therefore, this week, we want to examine more of Jesus’s ideas on prayer which was certainly based on the foundation of the Hebrew concept of prayer. Let’s look at that foundation first. In our first reading from the Book of Sirach and in our Psalm we can get a glimpse of the Hebrew thought on prayer. First, Sirach says that God is not going to show partiality to the poor. That may surprise us. I think if I had asked you the question – Would God favor the poor? – all of you would have said a resounding “yes”. But Sirach says no, that God, won’t favor them, but he will listen first to the prayers of anyone who has been wronged. If poverty in society is a wrong, then God will listen to the poor before he listens to us. It also means that the prayers of the orphan, the prayers of the widowed will also be listened to first. In other words, God’s mercy will favor the the unfortunate and the wronged.
So if we are not the unfortunate or the wronged, how would the Hebrews say that we would get listened to in prayer? Well, Sirach says that by being a servant to others God will listen to us. When we humble ourselves to serve the needs of others, our prayers will go right up to heaven and continue till they are heard.
Do you see how Christ was able to build on this Hebrew foundation – it already sounds a lot like what we remember Jesus saying, doesn’t it!
The Psalm also re-iterates that the poor and the humble get the first shot at God’s hearing. “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,” the Psalm says, “and rescues them from all their troubles.” “Let the humble hear and be glad!” And then in the repetitive way the Psalms have of saying the same thing in many different ways: “The Lord is near to he brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
So you can see that these teachings about the power of prayer for the humble and the unfortunates in society were around long before Jesus came. And when we look at the parable of Jesus, we can see that Jesus builds on that foundation, but makes it just a little clearer and harder. The Pharisees were men who did good works. They tried not to sin, they donated to the Temple, they fasted often. It does not sound like they were bad people at all, and from what we have seen in Sirach, by doing these good works their prayer should rise to heaven. But Jesus says it is more than just doing something, it is the attitude we have in doing that something.
The Pharisees in the parable were smug, arrogant, and judgmental. Instead of being servants in their attitudes to one another, they were lording it over others, especially people they judged to be unworthy or ‘dirtier’ than they were.
We sometimes get the impression because of the law of love that Jesus espoused, that Jesus was easier on people than the traditional ways. But actually, Jesus was always harder. He didn’t just want the fulfillment of a law, he wanted the attitude behind it changed. That’s why we often hear him say: You are told this, but I tell you that..” It is not the outward doing, but the interior attitude that Jesus wants us to change.
It is easy to fall into the attitude of thinking we are better than others. Certain people repel us and I think there is a natural need to reject that which is different from us. It is certainly something we have to work at. When we are approached by a street person who is unkempt, bearded, dirty, uneducated or whatever, is it fear that causes us to step back, or pride, or disgust? What do we have to do is to throw away those judgments and see underneath all of that – to know that there is a person of dignity there, that God already listens to more than he listens to us. Definitely not easy, but I ask you this week to examine those feelings inside you, confront them, and see if you can change them a little.
In our second reading, Paul had to confront all these things. Before he was converted, he hated the Christians, judged them to be unworthy. But he was forced to re-examine all of that when he was confronted with Jesus himself. And what did he become? – a servant of the Word, a servant to others in the name of Jesus. At the end of his life, he talks today to Timothy and to us, both with some pride in the fact that he managed to get through life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”, but the pride is tempered with he humility that he didn’t do it through human intervention, but did it through God who never deserted him. It wasn’t him, it was God: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.” It is that humility of knowing it was God more than my efforts that he says will grant him a place in the kingdom.
So let that be the main lesson for us today among the many little lessons. If we hold true to the knowledge that our good deeds are God acting in us for the betterment of the weaker and poorer, we too will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
That is the wonderful Good News of our readings today! God bless.
The story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is one we have heard often over time. It is paired with the reading from Sirach about God as a just judge, looking out for everyone and Paul in Timothy explaining how he gave his life to the Lord. If we turn to the gospel story, we first should realize that the Pharisee was not a bad person. All the acts and sacrifices he describes are good works and even expected of someone of his place in society. Yet, in the end Jesus criticized the Pharisee because of where he was and what he said. His prayer is full of “I’s”. His concern is for himself, his well-being, not for others or the community. His list is one of what would be expected of a Pharisee, a form almost of self praise. The tax collector on the other hand, was in a way fearful and acknowledged that as a sinful man he was unworthy. His prayer was to ask for God’s mercy. In the end, Jesus said the tax collector left justified in his prayer. God judges in his own way and time. He is a just judge who knows each of us intimately, knows who we are and how we think. He knows our actions and how we relate to others. He judges us not only on what we are expected to do, but also when we fall short of what we can and should do. It is ironic, that in almost all that we do, we can never reach perfection. In our faith and in our love and actions toward others, we can always fall short. I once had a professor who called it the uneasy conscience of a Christian, always asking and suggesting, “can I do more?” Should we be satisfied saying I did the best I could? Sometimes we must be, while at other times, we just might be called to keep going. In all our lives, everyday brings different and even new things into our lives. How we meet and live our lives meeting new things and people and challenges is how we witness and live our faith. Using our prayer life in a humble, realistic way seeking God’s mercy will lead us also to justification.
Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (Oct. 16)
The main message for us as Catholics and Christians today is “perseverance”, the idea that we steadfastly continue doing what we are doing until we get it right or until we get what we want.
Let’s start with St. Paul’s exhortation to us today. It is unusual that all three readings have the same theme but today they certainly do. Paul tells Timothy to be persistent in proclaiming the Good News. He tells Timothy he has the tools to be persistent – Scriptures (which was the Old Testament since the New hadn’t been written yet), tradition, and his faith. His job in preaching the Good News as missionary to the Gentiles was to convince, to rebuke and to encourage – but always with patience and persistence. I am not sure we can take this as advice to all of us, since it was specifically directed to Timothy, an “ordained” missionary, but it certainly has implications for all of us.
The Psalm celebrates the persistence of God who will not rest nor sleep but do everything God can to protect us and keep us from evil – the true shepherd of Israel!
In the first reading from Exodus, we also celebrate persistence, and I take this story as a metaphor for how we ought to pray to God. Moses prayed to God by holding up his staff on a mountain overlooking the battlefield. If he let the staff down, the people began to lose the fight, but as long as he kept it up, the Israelites were victorious. I like this image. Many times during our Prayer of the Faithful, I have been tempted to hold my staff up to God, while we asked for miraculous cures. Maybe some day I will try it. Jesus did say with faith we could move mountains!
I see this story though as a way of describing prayer – first of all that it must be persistent. We must never stop praying. But secondly, we have to realize that we can’t do it alone. It takes a community, all persistent, to batter the gates of heaven. When Moses got tired, they sat him down first, but then held up his arms for him, so that he could be always persistent. And it was that perseverance that won the battle and the war!
And, because this is a story from the Old Testament, how do we know it still applies to us today? Because – as we see in the Gospel – Jesus tells us so.
The Gospel today is the first of two parables that Jesus tells which illustrate to Luke’s mind, a specific point. Lest we don’t get the message, Luke tells us the message from the start. “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Maybe that is the difference between stating a message and telling a parable. The parable is much more interesting and intriguing, leaving itself open to a number of interpretations.
In this parable, God is certainly not this corrupt judge, but the point of the story is that if even a corrupt judge gives in to persistence, how much more will our God do so?
Luke, who wrote this many years after Christ’s death could also have in mind that the early Christians were still waiting for Christ to come again as judge. In the meantime, they were being persecuted and some were giving up on waiting. Such a parable could seek to strengthen their resolve and be persistent in their faith.
How many times have we prayed to God, hopefully expecting an answer to our prayers and have heard nothing? Have we given up in our prayers? What Jesus seems to be saying to us is that we must continue to pray for God’s justice in any situation, singly and in community. We may have to wait a long time, but we keep on – tis the ‘judge gives in’.
The Gospel ends with Jesus posing a question to his disciples: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth.?” We have been waiting a long time for the second coming. The earliest Christians expected it in their lifetime. Ten thousand generations later, we are still waiting. Is there still faith on earth?
I am aware as Catholics that unlike the fundamentalists we don’t talk as much about the second coming – we kind of brush it aside as something that is an article of faith but it probably doesn’t influence our daily actions or thoughts. If it does, because of the persistence of fundamental emphasis on “end of the world” horror stories, it may simply scare us and we avoid it. But it is very much a part of our faith that we proclaim at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! Death will be the first reckoning for most of us, but Christ is returning to merge the kingdom of heaven and earth. It may not be now. It may be much later. We don’t know, but we must have faith and belief that our lives will be judged – our attention to the great commandments noted – and justice will be meted out with mercy. That is a tenet of our faith. So be persistent, not just in your faith, but in your prayer life, and make sure the community is part of your prayer life as well.
This is the Good News we can draw from all four readings today and that I ask you ponder in the following week.
Ronald Stephens , Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]
Note: I will be taking a 3 year Sabbatical from this blog beginning the first Sunday in Advent. I have gone back again to school full time for a Catholic Psychology degree, and need to concentrate on that until it is finished.
Today we are reminded in our readings about prayer and also about being witnesses or preachers of the Word. In a sense, both are difficult to talk about, as it seems today the world is caught up in a constant flow of information and endless streams of people’s thought and hopes and aspirations and these are not always means of a moment of prayer or a chance to witness. Yet, the electronic age is not the answer to the contentment of humanity. If anything it has created difficulties we never envisioned. For example, even in our enlightened age, we run into situations and times that are definitely beyond our control and apart from anything we can do. Illness, life-threatening diseases, even death are in our lives and our only feeling possible is really helplessness or the realization that there is nothing we can do. Really, is that so? How immersed in the times have we become that we forget our Faith. Is anyone of us immune from remembering that Jesus said ask the Father. Life is more than an endless stream of information. Life experience, contemplation, prayer in time of hopelessness and hardship is a normal and ready response. It is what our faith calls us to do. The stories of Moses and of the widow are meant to remind and show us that God hears the prayers of his people, and he cares. Prayer is meant to be a normal thing, a daily thing, a communication with our unseen God who in many ways touches and moves us through life with a helpful guidance leading us to him. Prayer is many faceted and done in many ways, in the silence of our heart, with others, in private, in public, but always in some way God hears and we need to be open to him.
Also in our life of faith we are called to witness to the Word, to Jesus’ teachings throughout his time on earth and through his church which has remained to carry on his message. His Body and Blood present to all of us and our food for eternity is here for all of us to strengthen us and help us to continue to witness and preach his word both in our lives and at times even in our speech and conversations with others. Whatever we do for others, to witness or to just extend what is a show of love and concern is to share the word of Jesus.
This call, this witness we give is often just being who we are. Are we following Jesus, are we being faithful to his word, to his example, to the actual call he has made to all of us? Faith calls us to give witness at all times because we believe.
Today our Old Testament reading is about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, and Elisha, the prophet of God. The story is 27 verses, the entire 5th chapter of the 2nd Book of Kings. But, we only get 3 verses in the Lectionary. I would guess that most people are not familiar with the “rest of the story”, and it is a fascinating story. Some of these ideas came from Walter Brueggemann, a well known author & scholar of the Old Testament, and I thought they were worth sharing.
Naaman was highly respected by the King of Syria, for he was a skilled leader and very successful in battle. BUT, he was “a leper”, with repulsive sores and flakey, scaly skin. It would cost him his military/political career and his social position if he didn’t find a cure.
In an ironic twist, Naaman’s wife had a slave girl from Israel, captured in a raid, and this slave knew of the miracles done by the prophet Elisha. So the King of Syrian gave Naaman a letter of introduction to the King of Israel, and Naaman set off, loaded with 10 silver coins, 6,000 gold pieces and 10 expensive sets of clothing, a fortune really, to buy his healing.
Well, the King of Israel tore his clothing in despair, thinking this must be an excuse for the Syrians to invade and destroy Israel, because clearly, no one could cure leprosy. But Elisha heard about the ruckus, and suggested that the king send Naaman to him.
When Naaman arrived at Elisha’s door, Elisha didn’t even bother to come out. He just sent someone else to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the muddy old river Jordon. Naaman was infuriated. He was certain Elisha would at least wave his hands over him, say prayers, and invoke the Israelite God to cure him. So Naaman was in a rage, “We have better, cleaner rivers in Damascus, I could have stayed home and washed in a river!” He turned to leave, but his servants reasoned with him. “It’s a simple thing to do. You would have done something difficult if he told you to, why not at least try?” He did, and he was not only healed, but his skin was as smooth and clean as a child’s.
Now, no story is complete until you place it in the culture of the time, and in the Middle East then, you always had to reciprocate for any favor. So Naaman returns to pay Elisha. And Naaman even adds a confession of faith, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” Elisha refuses any payment. No co-pay, no professional fees, no deductable, no monthly premium, no bill to be sent in the mail. And then, Naaman has a curious request – could he please take 2 mule loads of dirt, so he can worship no other god except the Lord, on Israeli soil, at home, in Syria. People equated worship with a physical and geographical place, and Naaman wanted some of that “place” to take home.
He also added one little caveat to the deal. He would still have to enter the Damascus temple of the idol Rimmon with the King, and he wanted forgiveness in advance for bowing down to that idol for social and political reasons, with the understanding that he believed the Lord was the one true God. Now, what do you suppose Elisha’s reply to that was?
Elisha said, “Go in peace.” “Go in Peace”?? That was not what I expected. I was waiting for a fiery, “If the Lord is God, bow to HIM!! Why would Elisha be so calm about pre-planned idolatry from this man whose life has just been saved by God? I find it amazing.
Elisha was not in the business of selling health care, after all. He was in the business of peace. He brought peace to Naaman, who came knowing only fear and death.
Elisha brought peace to many people by healing a dreaded disease; he contributed to the common good by overcoming suffering.
Elisha brought peace because now a powerful and well known leader has confessed that the Lord is the only source of power and healing.
Elisha contributed to a step toward peace between Israel and Syria. If more people did that, our world would be a different place today.
Elisha gave us all a reminder of the abundance of God’s love and healing, which is freely, abundantly given to all. Elisha, like God, did not hire a staff that counts our failures or the times we feel we must bow to some idol. God does not barter for peace. The peace of God, like rain, falls on the just and the rest of us.
Finally, Elisha chose to remain free to move on in peace himself, not bound by any missteps by others. He had God’s work to do; he would focus on the good & not concern himself with judgments. He would stay free to let God’s spirit move as and when it would.
My grandchildren tell me they don’t like Christians because they’re in your face and pushy about their religion, but yet don’t seem to know much about their faith. It sounds like the Christians they meet aren’t in the peace business. Are they looking for some kind of paybacks, such as increasing church attendance and donations? Are they unfamiliar with the work of God’s Spirit?
Even if we were the only ones in town in the peace business, the only ones who seem interested in freely handing out the sacraments without barriers, feeding the hungry, distributing laundry baskets, and caring for the elderly, that’s all right. We can be the only ones who end every encounter with peace, who move on to the next encounter without noting the failures of our brothers and sisters. We can affirm each other, complete with those idols we each cling to. We can spend less time and effort worrying about our scales and our flakey-ness, and focus instead on something constructive.
Peace is the gift that heals us all, but peace spreads by our contact with each other, one at a time. Then we are ready to praise and worship the God of love and healing and peace.