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February 22, 2017

Jesus invites Himself

In the Gospel passage, today, Jesus invites himself into our hearts. He wants to come in and help us to overhaul our lives so we can be on the path of a new, meaningful, and fruitful existence. We are invited to come down from the tree of human effort and to embrace the gift of God that Jesus offers us. Zacchaeus was a very short, wealthy tax collector and a public sinner. He was a man widely despised for his life of cheating, bribery, and extortion. Also, he was denounced for being a collaborator with the Roman authorities. But this man,despite the heavy moral burden on his shoulders, made a courageous decision to see Jesus. He did not let his shortcomings discourage him – not his small height, not his sinfulness, and not the crowds who did not like him and who would have ridiculed him as he climbed the Sycamore tree. Zacchaeus made the effort to climb the tree but it was Jesus who came to him with a life changing offer: “I must stay at your house today.” This is the only time in Scripture that Jesus invited himself to someone’s house. He did not invite himself to the house of the District Governor, the Army Commander, or the Chief Priest. Rather, he chose to invite himself to the house of someone widely regarded as a sinner. That is the radical and counter-cultural character of divine love.

In going to Zacchaeus’ house, the Lord did not care about the criticism that he was associating with sinners. Elsewhere in Scripture, he makes it clear: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:32).  In last week’s Gospel, he used the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector to teach us to not consider ourselves better than others (Lk. 18:9-14). Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, at the house of Simon the Pharisee, where the sinful woman washed his feet with her tears, the Lord taught us how much better it is to be merciful rather than self-righteous (Lk. 7:36-50).  And today he chooses to visit the house of a notoriously crooked and highly unpopular tax collector. The question, therefore, is not “what would Jesus do to save us”, but rather “what would he not do to save one soul in danger”.

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The same Jesus comes knocking at the door of our hearts today, eager to come in and change our life for good. Every day he comes to us in Word and in Sacrament; he longs to have communion with us, that we may no longer be slaves to sin and unrighteousness; that we may rise above our petty squabbles and jealousy; that we may love and accommodate instead of hating and slandering our brothers and sisters. At this moment, Jesus is saying to you and to me: “I must stay at your house today.” What response are we giving him? When Zacchaeus heard those words the scales came off his eyes. It was an epiphany moment and he there and then made a commitment to make restitution for his mistakes: “Look, Lord, I am going to give half my property to the poor and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount” (Lk.19:8). This was a most radical response to a most profound impact of grace – the grace of mercy and forgiveness.

Beloved, most of us may not have any material restitution to make but that’s not what it is all about. The promise of restitution was only a sign and a reaction to the conversion experience that enveloped Zacchaeus. We see that the Lord did not commend his philanthropy but rather affirmed his spiritual rebirth: “Today salvation has come to this house.” So, what can we offer to the Lord today? Let us offer him our hearts and minds,and the totality of our being. Like Zacchaeus, we need to recognize our moral shortness – the sin clings so fast to us. Then we must hurry to climb the tree of divine favour; we must hurry to the fountain of mercy in the confessional and there pray the prayer of Psalm 63: “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.”

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When we strive to climb the sycamore of divine mercy, we will discover that it is the Lord himself who comes to meet us. He is the Good Shepherd that goes out in search of his lost sheep. The Incarnation is the ultimate example of God coming to meet us, to become one like us in everything but sin. Despite all our shortcomings, Jesus continues to reach out to us just like he did to Zacchaeus. In many ways, we are short on morals just like Zacchaeus too. Whether it is in using our position or authority to expropriate, intimidate,or blackmail others, or to deny them what rightly belongs to them; or in in keeping the sinful habits of gossips, greed, envy, and lust. These are spiritual shackles that impede our journey back to the Father, and we need to bring them to Jesus today in exchange for his pardon and peace.

We should not be ashamed or embarrassed to confess our shortcomings. Jesus knows our weakened condition and that’s why he came – to liberate us from the guilt and shame of sin. The Gospel today concludes with a summary of Jesus’ mission on earth: “The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost” (Lk. 19:10). This is at the core of the Gospel: that in the Incarnate Word we regain our fellowship with God; our sins are forgiven, and we regain our original status as children of God, partakers in the divine communion.

May the Father of mercies help us come down from the tree of human effort so as welcome Jesus into our hearts…Amen!

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