30 October 2010

REMEMBER THE SEQUENCE

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 19:1-10

Do you remember Jericho? If you know your Old Testament, you certainly know Jericho. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they had to conquer the city of Jericho first. Tall and thick walls used to surround and keep safe Jericho safe from any intrusion and invasion. But the Israelites conquered the city with almost no sweat. For seven days, the Israelites walked around the wall of Jericho seven times each day. And on the seventh day, after the seventh round, when the Israelites shouted together, the fortified walls of Jericho fell.

Today, another wall collapses. In Jericho. But not because someone shouted.

A man, named Zacchaeus, lives in Jericho. He is a tax collector and, therefore, according to Jewish moral standards, a public sinner. Zacchaeus collects taxes from his own countrymen but not for his country. He is an accomplice of the colonial oppressors because he exacts taxes for the Romans. Tax collectors are placed in the same company as thieves, traitors, murderers, and prostitutes.

Moreover, being a Jew himself, one can assume, almost with certitude, a tax collector is not well paid by the Romans for his services. Thus, while it is a common sight to behold a rich tax collector, Jews look with suspicion on a tax collector’s wealth. Zacchaeus is a rich tax collector.

Confined to his own very small circle of friends, Zacchaeus must be living a very lonely and isolated life. He is rich but sad. Wealth gives him a loveless privilege.

Today, however, Zacchaeus must have heard that the renowned prophet from Nazareth – who goes by the name of Jesus and has a positive reputation in mingling with sinners and outcasts – is coming to Jericho. Is he a friend of Matthew who himself was a tax collector before he started following Jesus? Can it be that Matthew alerted Zacchaeus about the possibility of another wall collapsing in Jericho today? That wall surrounds not the city but Zacchaeus.

The Gospel today does not say that Zacchaeus wants to meet Jesus. All that Zacchaeus wants is to see Jesus. But Zacchaeus is too small to see over the crowd. He, therefore, climbs, not a wall, but a tree. All he wants is to see Jesus, not to meet Him.

But Jesus seems to be Jericho today precisely to meet Zacchaeus. When Jesus reaches the tree where Zacchaeus is perched on, He calls out to him, saying, “Zacchaeus, come down. I mean to stay in your house today.” A wall in Jericho starts collapsing again; this time, not because of shouts but because of an invitation. After all, Jesus is not simply passing by Jericho; He is in Jericho precisely because He means to visit Zacchaeus. Thus, he who climbed a tree shorter than everyone, comes down from it taller than the rest of them. Jesus searched for him and, finding him, Jesus wants to be His guest.

Of course, Zacchaeus is overjoyed and excited to welcome Jesus to his house. The crowd, however, knowing the kind of crook Zacchaeus is, are enraged. But Jesus is more interested in the outcast than the outraged. How unfortunate that many people can be so fixated on their neighbor’s sins while the Lord Himself sees beyond the sins of each of us to the person we can become. The Lord’s unconditional – even daring – love, however for Zacchaeus is not wasted. It yields the best result: Zacchaeus resolves to make amends for his sins.

Among the many stories in the gospels, the story of Zacchaeus is not only one of the most touching. It also has one of the most important lessons for us.

We all have our own images of God. Some are good images, others not so good ones. There are people who see God as a giant police officer who is always on the lookout for any violation we may commit so that we are easily and, even severely, punished. Others look at Him as a supreme accountant who records our every wrongdoing. Still others consider Him a strict judge that is partial to our conviction rather than our acquittal. But the first reading today paints for us a very different, even radical, image of God: “You are merciful to all, because You can do all things and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent.”

Notice the sequence. First, God overlooks men’s sins. Then, men repent. And He overlooks men’s sins precisely so that men can repent. The sequence is important. That sequence spells the difference between the way God forgives and how we forgive. Usually, we, sinners though we are ourselves, demand repentance first, then we overlook the sin. But God, who Himself is offended by our sins, overlook our wrong first so that we may repent. O, yes, God is alerted when we sin but He does not stay with it. He does not have a fixation on our sins. God is fixated on lavishly pouring out His love on us instead.

See what Jesus does to Zacchaeus today. He does not say, “Zacchaeus, come down. If you are sorry now for your sins, I mean to stay in your house. But if you are not, then, sorry for you, you missed your chance.” No, Jesus does not require repentance from Zacchaeus before He stays in Zacchaeus’ house. Again, the sequence is important. Jesus first welcomes the sinner, embraces the sinner, invites the sinner, overlooks the sins of the sinner, so that the sinner may repent in an atmosphere of acceptance. What heart as thick and fortified as the wall of Jericho will not melt with that kind of an attitude toward it? That is why Zacchaeus comes down from the tree not only to see Jesus but to meet Him.

There are many walls waiting to be torn down. There are many Zacchaeus’s still perched on their own trees. The secret to make those walls collapse, the strategy to make those Zacchaeus’s come down from their trees, is to overlook the sin so that the sinner may repent in an atmosphere of acceptance.

Remember Jericho. Remember Zacchaeus. Remember Jesus. Remember the sequence.

2 Comments:

At 12:22 PM , Blogger talkneneng said...

Fr. Bobby, ngayon ko lng po nakita itong blog ninyo. Na mi-miss ko po ang mass n'yo sa may St. Joseph Parish in QC, long years ago na. Honestly, nakikita ko po na sumasainyo si Jesus Christ. With that, naipapakilala at naibabahagi mo S'ya sa amin. I pray to be like you, a humble servant of God.. Thank you very much and God bless you always!

 
At 8:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lord Jesus, I believe that Your mercy is greater than our sins. Your kingdom here on earth is PEACE and FORGIVENESS.

Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love and Mercy that we may serve You with a willing, kind heart.

I love You Lord Jesus.Amen.


-rory

 

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