October 30, 2016
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 He [Jesus] came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."
6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy. 7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner." 8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." 9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
In the gospel text for last week, Jesus told the familiar parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. Once again this week the focus of the gospel is a tax collector, but his time it is not a parable, as Luke describes Jesus’ direct encounter with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector. In Luke’s gospel, these two tax collector stories do not follow one upon the other--rather, several other events occur between them. The first is an account of people bringing infants to Jesus so that he could touch them (Luke 18:15-17). This is followed by an official asking Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. (Luke 18:18-23) The third is an incident where Jesus comments on how wealth makes it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God. After that, Jesus makes his third prediction of his passion and resurrection, and he heals a blind beggar. (Luke 18: 24-43)
Throughout his gospel, Luke generally portrays Jesus as being compassionate toward the outcast and having harsh criticism of the wealthy. On the first Sunday in August (the 18th Sunday in ordinary time), the gospel included a parable about a rich landowner who had such a great harvest that he was going to pull down his barns and build larger ones so that he could eat, drink and be merry for many years. But God said to him, “you fool, this night your life will be demanded of you…” (Luke 12:20) Then back at the end of September (26th Sunday in ordinary time), the entire gospel was Jesus telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31) As mentioned above, leading into this week’s text, Luke includes the story of a rich official who, when encouraged to sell his possessions and become a follower of Jesus, went away sad because he had many possessions. For the people of the day, this man would have been looked upon favorably because he kept the commandments. But for Jesus, the possessions were a stumbling block that prevented the man from being able to respond to his invitation. This awareness will help us appreciate the richness of this gospel text.
At the beginning of the gospel text, Luke states that Jesus was intending to pass through Jericho. The presumption is that he was not going to stop. The second verse introduces Zacchaeus, a leading tax collector of the area. He is a wealthy short man who seeks to see Jesus as he passes through town. Luke does not clarify his motivation for wanting to see Jesus, he just states that he wants to see him. He does describe the extent to which Zacchaeus is willing to go just to be able to see him. This short wealthy man climbs a tree high enough to be able to see above the crowd.
It is Jesus, presumably along with the disciples and others from the town, who stops and engages Zacchaeus, inviting himself to dinner. Judging from appearances, Zacchaeus is a contemptible person. Tax collectors were people whose livelihood was obtained by collecting taxes for the Roman government. For the Jews, whose identity was tied to the fact that God had freed them from the slavery of Egypt, any reminder that they were not the free people that God had intended was painful. Zacchaeus is not only a tax collector, but he is the leader of a group of tax collectors. He is rich, which primarily means that he did not have to work for his daily survival. But here it also would imply to Luke’s audience that he was good at his profession. Contempt for him and his work leads the reader to presume he is “piled high” in his sinfulness. But that is only the external side of Zacchaeus.
Even before Jesus reaches Zacchaeus’ house, there is grumbling. It is then that Jesus learns what kind of a person he really is. Zacchaeus states that he gives half of his possessions to the poor. The tense of the verb here implies that this is an ongoing regular practice. Next, he states that if he discovers that he has defrauded anyone, he would repay him or her 400 percent. The statement does not imply that he has defrauded, but he says if he were to learn that he had cheated anyone, they would be repaid. The Torah required that a person who defrauded another needed to return 120 percent of what was taken. Roman law required restoration of 400 percent only if the cheater was convicted. Zacchaeus has exceeded both standards of justice. Even though Zacchaeus is rich and powerful, he does not let his position prevent him from treating others, even the most vulnerable, with respect and fairness. Unlike the rich man who went away sad from his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus learns that “today, salvation has come” to his house.
There seems to be a new insight for us in Jesus’ final statement in this gospel, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” What was lost here is our awareness of God’s active presence in the life a person who appeared to be a contemptible sinner. If that is true for Zacchaeus, it may also be true for people with whom we live, or even for ourselves. Jesus reveals a God who desires to seek out and save whatever is lost, even in the most surprising places.
1. How do you feel about people who are so wealthy they do not have to work for a living? Do you personally know anyone that fits that description?
2. Can you recall times when someone has melted your presumed impression of what they might be like?
3. How many incidents of Jesus eating with sinners, women, or outcasts can you recall?
4. Why do you think Jesus says to Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house”? (Luke 19:5)
5. Do you hear Jesus also saying to you “I want to stay at your house”?
6. What behaviors point you to how you are responding?
7. When you reflect on Zacchaeus climbing a tree to get above the crowd just to get a glimpse of him passing, how does that translate for you and your desire to be present to Jesus?
8. Where are the present day Zacchaeuses in your community? For what do you think they are looking?
9. What is happening within you as you reflect on this text? How can you bring that back to God?
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The reflection and questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to email@example.com.
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Excerpts from the readings for October 30, 2016, the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent, for you love all things that you have made.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord, your spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
and warn them, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you!
I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
I will extol you, and I will bless your name forever and ever.
Every day will I bless you, and praise your name.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might.
The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.
The Lord lifts up all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
Brothers and sisters: We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling,
and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.
With regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him,
we ask you not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed
either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.
A wealthy chief tax collector in Jericho named Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
When they all saw this, they grumbled, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Excerpts from Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; and Luke 19:1-10