Jesus’ astonishing mercy

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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Nov. 3, 2013
Wis 11:22–12:2; Ps 145; 2 Thess 1:22–2:2; Luke 19:1-10

Our Lord Jesus can be very direct! And what we hear in the Gospel reading today is one of those examples. The people in Jericho are upset—and not just the Pharisees and the scribes this time but, it seems, everyone!—because Jesus has gone to stay in the house of a sinner. And how does he respond? “No, no, it’s not the way it seems… I didn’t mean it that way… I’m just, you know…” No! He says: “Well, of course! That’s the point! The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. Haven’t you crowds been listening to the Gospel readings the last few weeks?!”

Well, of course they haven’t—but we have! And we have heard so many parables in which St. Luke sets before our eyes the marvelous mercy of our Lord Jesus. We have heard about the man who searched out his lost sheep, and the woman who searched out her lost coin. We have heard about the loving father who welcomed back the Prodigal Son. We have heard about the reward given to the poor, sick beggar Lazarus; and the forgiveness given to the tax collector who prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

And now Jesus encounters a tax collector in person—indeed, a chief tax collector. And we understand why the crowd would be so upset with them. Because this was a man who had hurt them and betrayed them again and again; who had stolen from them, and made himself rich. How?

  • First, simply by being a collaborator with the occupying Roman Empire. He was acting against his own people, in collecting taxes for this occupying, foreign, Gentile power.
  • But, second, because, like other tax collectors of the time, he could use his position to enrich himself. He simply had to pay a certain amount to the Empire, and then he could keep the rest. And it certainly appears that he had made himself a rich man through this abuse of his position.

And so they were bitter at Zacchaeus. They hated him! It was great for Jesus to be merciful—but this time his mercy had gone too far!

Except that Jesus didn’t think so. We heard the writer of the first reading say to God: “You love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made.” And it is true; and this love filled the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus. Zacchaeus was not too far gone; no one is too far gone! And so Jesus had come to this earth; and he had come to Jericho; and he looked for Zacchaeus; and he found him (in a tree!).

Zacchaeus was in that tree because he had been looking for Jesus. He had heard of him, he wanted to see him, and he was too short to see over the crowd; so he climbed the tree. He thought that he was the one looking for Jesus; but, when Jesus looked up into that tree, he discovered that it had been him looking for Zacchaeus.

  • Did Zacchaeus think that his sin was too great? That he had done too many terrible things? That there was no way back? That all he could hope for was a glimpse of Jesus from a distance?
  • Or maybe he didn’t even think of himself as sinful at all? Maybe he still was enjoying all his power and riches as a chief tax collector, and thought it was a great life? Maybe he was only looking for Jesus out of idle curiosity?

Either way, that look of Jesus changed everything—that look of love; that look of knowing; that look of seeking and reaching out a hand. That voice that said, “Zacchaeus, today I must stay at your house.” And he knew that his house, his heart, wasn’t ready for such a guest. But the guest would help him to make it ready. And so, suddenly, he was ready to turn away from his sin. He was ready to throw off those chains, throw out that filth. He was ready to make a new start. And he was ready to make amends—to try to repair the damage that he had caused by his past sins.

Salvation indeed came to his house that day.

And salvation can come to yours; and to the home of everyone you know and everyone you meet. It is so basic, is it not, that Jesus heals and saves? That no sin is unforgivable? That no wound is un-healable? And yet so many do not know it or cannot believe it. Maybe they think that they have to make themselves better before they can draw near to him? Maybe they think that what they’ve done can never be forgiven? Maybe that’s you. Or maybe it’s someone you know who will never hear it here, because they never come here; and they will only hear it from you.

What our Lord Jesus did for Zacchaeus that day, he can do for them, he can do for you! He is ready to make all things new (Rev 21:5). He stands at your door and knocks (Rev 3:20); he waits for your response; he waits for you to open the door to him, the Savior, the Redeemer, the life-giver.

Jesus loves you just the way you are; and he loves you too much to let you stay that way.

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