Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

I Must Stay At Your House

The readings at Mass for last Sunday (XXXI Sunday in Ordinary Time; Wis 11:22-12:2; Ps 145; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10) were very happy ones to read. The visiting priest did a very good job providing them with a spiritual interpretation. I will recount (and slightly embellish upon) it here.

By the time Jesus arrived at Jericho, he had massive crowds following Him because of the miracles they'd heard of. They wanted Him to do something for them: heal a sick child, settle cases of law, give them bread that he could make reportedly from thin air. They all wanted something from Him.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Now, nobody really likes the IRS. But lest anyone confuse a Roman publican with an American federal employee, let's take a minute to explore what Roman publicans, i.e., tax collectors, did and were. First of all, they weren't Roman. They were locals. So Zacchaeus was a Jew. Second of all, they paid for the right to collect a given kind of tax, or taxes in general, in a given region. The Romans ran their tax organization like a franchise. There was a custom by which the publican was permitted to take a little extra from his taxees for his "service" and it was quite common for the publicans to refuse receipts to those who wouldn't pay even more. That's how the publicans made back the money they paid the Romans for the right to collect taxes from their countrymen: by extorting those same countrymen. To ensure the process went smoothly, the Romans would provide rough soldiers as escorts and enforcers.

A few decades after Jesus, a Jewish historian named Josephus reports that the Romans were crucifying so many people for rebellion, rioting, and resisting their authority that the Romans actually ran out of wood for the crucifixes. Even if he exaggerates, that is a LOT of crucifixions! Even by the time of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the Roman rule in Palestine was becoming increasingly brutal: destroying an entire village, or massacring all of its children, was a common enough affair. Maybe some of the people crowding in to see Jesus wanted him to heal injuries caused by Roman soldiers. It is in this context that Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, a Roman collaborator and traitor who had probably extorted many people in the same crowd, thereby making himself rich at their expense.

There was a difference between Zacchaeus and the crowd, though. They mostly wanted Jesus to do something for them. Zacchaeus merely wanted to see the one who everyone said was strict and held a high standard, yet was kind and gentle even to prostitutes and tax collectors. Without knowing it, or maybe even without knowing why, he wanted to see the Face of God. We all do. It's what we were made for. Only Zacchaeus wasn't going to let natural or social difficulties stand in his way. He was literally willing to go out on a limb to see the Living God.

Jesus had mercy on Him and invited himself over to Zacchaeus' house - a house probably long filled only with other tax collectors and their rented prostitutes, since no respectable or good citizen would be caught dead there. The joy on his face probably said much the same thing as the Roman Centurion who said, "Lord I am not worthy that Thou should enter under my roof," (Mt 8:8). His response was as gracious as our Lord's mercy: he would give half of his posessions to the poor, and four times repayment to whomever he had extorted, when the Law only required double repayment. Jesus' choice of words is striking as well: "I must stay in your house today," (Lk 19:5). Must is a big word. There is very little that God must do. But to visit salvation upon Zaccheus, Jesus had to visit him in his home.

Lots of other people only want God to do stuff for them. That's not what chiefly interests Him, though. WE are what He is chiefly interested in. And He wants us to be chiefly interested in Him. He wants to make His dwelling with us. And He will, if only we are willing to stop treating Him as if He were our step-and-fetch boy and go out on a limb to see Him for who He really is. Then He will offer to come into our heart and home, and if we receive Him, we will welcome salvation and grace beyond imagining.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom draws attention to God's methodology of salvation. Gently, gradually, He draws us each back to Himself at the right pace. We might say, "Oh, why does so-and-so have it so easy?" or "Poor so-and-so, life is really rough for him." In reality we'd best just recognize that God is working patiently and inexorably for the salvation of each person, using whatever life circumstances suit each of us best, to draw us to Himself, to get us to welcome Him into our hearts without compromising our freedom to slam the door in His face. As with Zaccheus, if Jesus is to bring us salvation, He must visit us in our home, dwell with us there, and by coming into our home, come into our heart, and bring grace with Him.

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