The Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost
Ephesians 2, 17-22 & Saint Luke 19, 1-10
July 24, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma
This story comes immediately after an encounter with a blind beggar. What Luke gives us then is a stark contrast between someone poor and someone rich. Both of them get to see Jesus. One chapter earlier there is another story of an encounter with a rich man that ends sadly leading us into this story that has a different ending, because Zacchaeus, unlike the other rich man in the previous story, can and does give away. This story is a powerful one for us, because the poorest among us in comparison the rest of the world are very, very rich. We cannot listen to this story and think that it is just about the chief tax collector in Roman occupied Israel a long time ago.
There are two little pieces to this episode of Luke’s Gospel for us to dwell upon. Zacchaeus, in his conversion and in response to the presence of Christ in his life does way more than anyone might expect. The custom and the rules of that day set out very clearly what restitution was required or legally necessary in cases of fraud or robbery. What Zacchaeus does greatly exceeds what is required. This is not a man of minimalism. He does not simply do the minimum required of him. It reminds me of the Samaritan who picks up the man on the street after others have passed by. That Samaritan says to the inn-keeper, “Do whatever you can for him. He leaves some money and then says, if there is more I will pay you upon my return.” He doesn’t just drop him off. There is here a sense of greater generosity than just the minimal in both stories. To make the point even more powerfully, both stories use people despised by others as examples of goodness: a Samaritan and the Chief Tax Collector. If these kinds of people rise up to do more than the bare minimum, how much more so for the rest of us?
At the end of this episode comes another message from Luke that speaks to us just as clearly as it did to those for whom he first composed this Gospel. He tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the “lost.” For some reason when we use this word in a religious context, it takes on a meaning not all intended. Too often the “lost” refers to those who are doomed or condemned. This is not all the meaning of the word. When we lose something it does not mean it is destroyed. It means that it is not in its proper place. I remember so clearly as child crying out to my mother when I couldn’t find something like a missing sock or a book. Her response was always a question: “Where did you leave it?” which always frustrated me because if I knew where I had left it, I would not be looking for it. Well, it’s the same with people who are “lost” and it might well be that we’ve all been lost from time to time. It means we are in the wrong place. We are lost when we wander from God, and we are found when we take our rightful place in the family of God.
What the Church puts before us today is a reminder that if we want to enjoy the companionship of Jesus Christ, we need to be in the right place, and then once we have found that place the only proper response to the wonder that we have been called to faith by Jesus Christ is a generosity that far exceeds anyone’s expectations or limitations. The best news of all today is that Jesus Christ has come to this house.