Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Week 33 Tuesday (Year 2)

Readings: Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22; Psalm 14; Luke19:1-10

How did the story of Zaccheus become a story for children? One reason, I suppose, is because he is a small fellow. He also goes in for climbing trees, which children like to do. In England religious education at key stages 1 and 2 has a section entitled ‘Who was Zaccheus?’ It includes, among other things, this health and safety warning: ‘children should know that climbing trees can be dangerous’.

Zaccheus is unpopular and without friends and presumably feels lonely: perhaps these are other reasons why he will win the sympathy of children who themselves often feel this way. As a small fellow he is easily mocked. As a senior tax-collector he is despised and probably feared. He is someone, it seems, with no friends, and so of particular concern to Jesus.

But sentiment can dull the edge of the story and its challenge. Zaccheus is a complicated figure. He is mocked and despised but he is rich and perhaps his wealth has cushioned him from loneliness. How will he relate to Jesus? How will Jesus relate to him? We are reading Luke’s gospel in which Jesus is critical of the rich, warning frequently about the dangers inherent in being rich.

Today’s first reading includes this teaching: ‘You say to yourself ‘I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want’, never realizing that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too’. True wealth is to be found in Jesus who brings the gold that makes really rich, the clothes of the saved, the ointment to cure the blind. He stands at the door, knocking, this passage from the Book of Revelation tells us.

So it is, almost literally, between Jesus and Zaccheus: he is standing at the door, knocking: ‘I must stay at your house today.’ The enthusiasm of Zaccheus in running up the tree to see what kind of man Jesus was is matched by the desire of Jesus for the well-being of Zaccheus. Jesus focuses not on his past or on his present predicament but on their future relationship. Everybody complains: this must include the disciples. But Zaccheus is stubborn in his determination to be with Jesus, so stubborn in this that he frees himself of his wealth in order to fulfill his desire.

Jesus’ treatment of Zaccheus teaches a number of things:

  • Don’t judge by appearances, prejudice, or categories. We must allow ourselves to be surprised, by people, and certainly by God’s ways.
  • Don’t presume to think that we have cracked the mystery of divine grace. It is infinitely patient and endlessly creative.
  • The rich man can get through the eye of the needle but not without radical change. We see the small man who is a tax-collector, the rich man who is a sinner. But Jesus sees a son of Abraham, a child of God, one of the lost he has come to seek out and to save.
 You will find here a homily for the Feast of St Albert the Great

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