October 30, 2022 at Saint Agnes, St William, & St. Peter Parishes in Naples, FL
Wisdom 11, 22-12,2 + Psalm 145 + 22 Thessalonians 1, 11 2, 2 + Luke 19, 1-10
We have to somehow get it straight in our heads that the Gospel is not some ideal, some pie-in-the-sky wish about the future in some alternate reality. The Gospel is about now, and its examples are not just drawn from some time long-ago. If the Word of God is truly alive, then it speaks to our time, our world, and our relationships. It addresses our behavior and our choices.
Last week with two men at prayer, a tax collector being one of them, and this week with another tax collector named Zacchaeus, we see the approval of Jesus for tax collectors who are reforming their lives because of their faith. These two stories are unique to Luke. They are not repeated in any of the other three Gospels, giving us one more example of Luke’s recurring theme: “The Son of Man has come to seek and save what is lost.” The resolve of Zacchaeus to give back and repay is evidence of his conversion and desire for restitution which is so much a part of real justice.
The act of Jesus entering the house of Zacchaeus is clear evidence of where Jesus wants to be and whose company he prefers. In that house there will be no one trying to trap him, no one watching his every move, no one listening to see if he says something that would get him into trouble. This is now near the end of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is almost to Jerusalem. There can no longer be any doubt about where Jesus is to be found, not in a Temple this time or a Synagogue, but in and among the ones he came, loved, and saved: sinners.
Jesus reaches out to Zacchaeus for hospitality, and with that request accepted, it’s all over for the sinner, Zacchaeus. He’s on his way to holiness. As his relationship to Jesus changes, so does his relationship to material possessions.
C.S Lewis wisely observed that the greatest sinners and the greatest saints are made from the same stuff, and so it is with us as well. This church is full of sinners and saints. They are not different people, and there’s way to point out one from the other, because all of us both sinner and saint. Holiness begins to take hold of us and define us when we welcome Jesus into our homes, our lives, and our hearts. At that moment, our relationship to material things will change as well.
The times in which we live have pushed us far apart making the challenge of this Gospel more difficult to embrace. Too often we prefer to hang around and listen to people who think like us, vote like us, live like us and sometimes pray like us. The kind of life coming from that behavior is far from life the way Jesus lived. He did not hang around with his own kind. If there is to hope for sinners, if there is any hope at all for conversion and the ultimate arrival of God’s Reign, we will have to pay attention to and follow the example of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus Christ must prefer and often be found in the home of a sinner. We must seek out the company of sinners, even great sinners for many of them may be on the threshold of conversion waiting for God’s love perhaps that can be found today nowhere else but within us. When that happens, sinners become saints.