31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C ~ October 30, 2022
REJECTED IS ACCEPTED
St. Clement I, pope and martyr while writing to the Corinthians, encouraged us to unite ourselves with the Lord and believe that he is going to accept us even if we are rejected by others. “Let us put on the unity of mind, thinking humble thoughts, exercising self-control, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being righteous in deed, and not in word only. Scripture says: He who says much hears much in his own turn. Or does the easy talker think that he is righteous? It is our duty then to be eager to do good, for everything is from God. He warns us: See, the Lord is coming, and the reward he brings is before him, for paying each according to his work. He urges us, who believe in him with all our heart, not to be idle or careless in any good work. Our boasting and our confidence must rest on him. Let us be subject to his will. Let us look carefully at the whole host of his angels; they stand ready and serve his will. Scripture says: Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him, and a thousand, thousand served him, and cried out: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole creation is full of his glory. We, too, dutifully gathered in unity of mind, should cry out to him continuously as with one voice to share in his great and glorious promises. It is written; Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, man’s heart has not conceived, what great things have been prepared for those who wait for him”.
He continues to encourage us “Beloved, how blessed, how wonderful, are God’s gifts! Life with immortality, glory with righteousness, truth with confidence, self-control with holiness: all these are the gifts that fall within our understanding. What then are those gifts that are in store for those who wait for him? Only the most holy Creator and Father of the ages knows their greatness and their splendor. We should then strive with the greatest zeal to be found among the number of those who await him, so that we may share in the promised gifts. How will this be, beloved? If our mind is fixed on God through faith, if we are diligent in seeking what is pleasing and acceptable to him, if we fulfill what is according to his blameless will and follow the way of truth, casting away from ourselves all that is unholy”.
Here is an interesting story of a Desert Father Macarius (St. Macarius) who was rejected by people, but God approved him to be innocent and guiltless. He himself shares his story. “When I was a young man, and living in my cell in Egypt, they caught me, and made me a cleric in a village. Because I did not want to minister, I fled to another place. A man of the world, but of a devout life, came to help me, and took what I made with my hands and ministered to my needs. It happened that a girl of the village was tempted by the devil and seduced. When she was seen to be pregnant, she was asked who the father of the child was, and she said, ‘It was this hermit who slept with me.’ They came out, arrested me, and brought me back to the village; they hung dirty pots and jug handles on my neck, and made me walk round the village, beating me as I went, and saying, ‘This monk has seduced our girl. Away with him, away with him.’ They beat me until I was almost dead, but another hermit came and said, ‘How long have you been beating that stranger monk?’ The man who used to minister to my needs followed behind, much ashamed, and they heaped insults on him, saying, ‘You supported this hermit, and look what he has done.’ The parents of the girl said that they would not let me go unless I found someone to guarantee her support. I spoke to the man who used to minister to me and asked him to be my guarantor, and he gave a pledge on my behalf. I went back to my cell, and I gave him all the baskets I had, and said, ‘Sell them, and give my wife some food.’ Then I said to myself, ‘Macarius, since you have found a wife for yourself, you need to work much harder to support her.’ So, I worked night and day and passed on to her the money that I made. When it was time for the unfortunate girl to bear the child, she spent many days in labour, and still did not produce the baby. They said to her, ‘What’s the matter?’ She said, ‘I know why I am in agony so long.’ Her parents asked her why. She said, ‘I accused that hermit falsely, for he had nothing to do with it; the father is a young man named so-and-so.’ The man who ministered to me heard this, and came to me with joy saying, ‘The girl could not bear her child, until she confessed that you had nothing to do with it and that she had told lies about you. Look, all the villagers want to come to your cell and glorify God and ask your pardon.’ When I heard this, I did not want them to trouble me, so I rose and fled here to Scetis.
I guess we too face rejection in our lives everyday either based on religion, colour, race, and language etc. but our Christian discipleship unites us as one in the Lord (Please read Acts 4:32-35). People are trying to build either walls or bridges to accept or to reject others. The First Reading helps us to understand that our rejection is nothing before the Lord because “The whole world before you, O Lord, is like a speck that tips the scales, and like a drop of morning dew that falls on the ground”. Although our life is nothing from the Lord, but he is merciful to all, and he loves us all. St. Paul rightly says, “even if we deny him, he will deny us and if we become unfaithful to him, but he remains faithful because he can not deny himself”.
In the Gospel today we have a very interesting story of Zacchaeus who is rich and chief tax collector, but he is missing something in spite of having all riches of the world and that was Jesus. Let me share with you about the situation of the tax collectors before I reflect on the Gospel today. During the time of Jesus, Israel was divided into various territories that were governed by the descendants of Herod the Great, but Judea was an Imperial territory governed by a Roman procurator and the taxes were very high there. Wealthy Jews would bid for the position of tax collector and get even more rich by adding a substantial fee above whatever was owed. The religious leaders especially despised the tax collectors, and they were considered unclean because of their contact with Romans. Their testimonies were rejected in court, and they were not redeemable under the law of Moses. When Jesus made friends with the tax collectors his ministry was immediately under suspect because the Pharisees hated the tax collectors and sinners, they thought that Jesus should follow them as well. The fact that Jesus sat and ate with what was considered the dregs of society was an act of grace that the Pharisees could not comprehend. However, Jesus kept showing mirror to the Pharisees and Scribes of their contradiction to the teaching of Law & Prophets. In the stories of Good Samaritan, Samaritan Woman and the Samaritan Leper are perfect examples of God’s acceptance towards rejection of these people.
Today’s Gospel is the answer to how Jesus treated the tax collector and sinner. Christ had mercy upon the tax collector and sinners, and He always received them because that was why He came, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost”. As Scripture tells us, “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34). Therefore, Jesus treated the tax collector and the sinner in the same way, with grace.
Today’s Gospel places us in the footsteps of Jesus Who, on His way to Jerusalem, stopped in Jericho. There was a great crowd to welcome Him, including a man named Zacchaeus, the head of the “tax collector”. He was the least likely man to be saved that day. He was a well-known sinner. Not only did he have the reputation of a sinner because of his trade, he was the leader of the Tax Collectors…leader of the sinners. For some reason, which is beyond human understanding, he wanted to see Jesus. Perhaps he lay awake all night thinking about his life and wondering if this is all there is. Perhaps he thought, I’m very successful and very wealthy but I still have this empty feeling inside and I know there must be more. Perhaps he’d heard something about Jesus. What were some hindrances he had in seeing Jesus? He was small and the crowd large. He was short and could not see over the people. However, being determined to see Jesus he runs up ahead where the crowd had not yet formed and climbed up into a sycamore tree. There were other things working against this man as well. He was rich. Jesus had already stated the impossibility of a rich man entering the Kingdom of God. He was a sinner. Both these characteristics worked against him as far as seeing Jesus. God had been working in this man’s heart because sinners do not on their own accord seek Christ. (Please read Romans 3: 1-20).
He was curious. And being short in stature, “to see him” he climbs up a tree. When Jesus comes close, he looks up and sees Him. And this is important: the first glance is not from Zacchaeus, but from Jesus, who among the many faces that surrounded Him – the crowd – seeks precisely that one. The merciful gaze of the Lord reaches us before we realize that we need it to be saved. And with this gaze of the divine Master there begins the miracle of the conversion of the sinner. Indeed, Jesus calls to him, and He calls him by his name: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today”. He does not reproach him, He does not deliver a “sermon” to him; He tells him that he must go to Him: “he must”, because it is the will of the Father. Despite the murmuring of the people, Jesus chose to stay at the home of that public sinner. We too would have been scandalized by this behaviour of Jesus. But contempt for and rejection of the sinner only isolate him and cause him to harden in the evil he commits against himself and the community. Instead, God condemns sin, but tries to save the sinner; He goes looking for him to bring him back on the right path. Those who have never felt they are sought by God’s mercy find it difficult to grasp the extraordinary greatness of the gestures and words with which Jesus approaches Zacchaeus. (Please read Ezekiel 33:1-12).
Jesus’ acceptance and attention to him lead him to a clear change of mentality: in just a moment he realized how petty life is when it revolves around money, at the cost of stealing from others and receiving their contempt. Having the Lord there, in his house, makes him see everything with different eyes, even with a little of the tenderness with which Jesus looked at him. And his way of seeing and using money also changes: the gesture of grabbing is replaced by that of giving. Indeed, he decides to give half of what he possesses to the poor and to return four times the sum to those from whom he has stolen. Zacchaeus discovers from Jesus that it is possible to love gratuitously: until this moment he was mean, but now he becomes generous; he had a taste for amassing wealth, now he rejoices in distributing. By encountering Love, by discovering that he is loved despite his sins, he becomes capable of loving others, making money a sign of solidarity and communion.
Do we long to see Jesus despite the negativity of the Society about Jesus? His confession “if he has taken more than…” made him win the favour of Jesus “Today salvation has come to his house…” Do we have the courage to confess ourselves to the Lord to gain his redemption who died on the Cross for our sins? Finally, Zacchaeus’s desire to see Jesus and his confession made Jesus to reveal the core purpose of his coming to the world “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost”. In our rejection by the world, there is acceptance of the Lord.
There was a singer who put everybody to sleep when he sang. As soon as he began to sing, his audience would fall asleep. They would wake up hours later when the power of his singing had worn off. Some said that he was such an excellent singer that he put everyone’s soul to sleep. Others said that he was such a horrible singer that people slept rather than listen to him. So, there were two schools of thought about the singer. One deeply appreciated his musical talent; the other did not appreciate him at all. But they all went to hear him sing.
One day, two burglars came to the singer and said, “You are such a great singer. We want to hire you. If we give you a lot of money, will you sing at a particular place?” The singer said, “Of course! If you pay me, I’ll sing. I don’t trust you, but if you give me the money beforehand, then I’ll go wherever you want me to.”
The two burglars gave the singer the promised sum of money and asked him to follow them. They brought him in front of a small bank and asked him to sing there. It was early evening, and there was only one guard watching this bank. As soon as the singer started singing, the guard fell asleep. Then the two burglars entered the bank and began collecting all the money.
After a while the singer stopped singing because the guard was fast asleep. He thought, “There is nobody to listen. This man doesn’t like my music.” For a long time the singer waited for the burglars to come out of the bank. Finally, he went inside and told them, “You’ve already given me my money. I’m leaving.”
The burglars, greedily stuffing their pockets, said, “Go ahead,” and they thanked him profusely. As the singer was about to leave, suddenly he got the inspiration to start singing. Immediately both burglars fell asleep. In the meantime, the guard who was outside woke up since he was not in earshot of the singing.
When the guard saw the singer coming out of the bank, he said, “What were you doing inside the bank? What’s going on in there?” The singer said, “I don’t know,” and he ran away. When the guard went inside, he found the two burglars sleeping and he caught them.
Are we ready to encounter Jesus, to be accepted by Him?
Other Sermons In This Series
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C ~ September 11, 2022
September 08, 2022
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C ~ July 24, 2022
July 22, 2022
Divine Mercy Sunday Year C – April 24, 2022
April 22, 2022