Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Wisdom 11:22-12:2
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10


October 30-31, 2004, Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Not too long ago, my wife Betsy mentioned that the rug in our living room needed some updating. I know I should have realized what was going to happen but I thought, “Hey it is only a little area rug. Sure, let’s replace it.” So we got a new rug. Sure enough, a little while later, Betsy said that our couch and love seat were really starting to look their age, especially next to the brand new rug. I thought they had weathered their 25 years of age and the assault of our 4 kids growing up pretty well but I had to admit, next to the new rug, they looked old and tired. Next thing I knew, we had a new couch and love seat and armchair. Shortly after that, I realized that the coffee table and end tables we had bought at the same time as the old furniture were gone, replaced by new tables. Turns out the old tables looked worn and used next to the new couch and love seat. Since then I am very careful that I never sit in the newly furnished room when Betsy is around. I am afraid that I am the next thing that will look old and ready to be replaced compared to the new furnishings.

What happened in my living room is a common occurrence in a lot of situations. One of the best ways to renovate a large scene is to start by introducing just one really nice, or beautiful, or truthful thing. That newness or beauty will start to radiate outwards, sweeping its surroundings in its path. This is true, not only in home fashion, but in urban renewal, and to a large extent in human social settings. There is something about truth and beauty and authenticity that tends to change things around them. We have seen the truth of this in sports. Any manager or coach will tell you that it is crucial to have someone on the team who is enthusiastic and committed to the team goals in the locker room or dugout. That person can turn a bunch of selfish, egotistic players into a winning team. We have seen how that works with the Patriots and now with the Red Sox. And as we see in today’s Gospel passage, that is how God intends to bring all of creation into one under Christ.

For many of the sects within Judaism during the time of Christ, sinfulness was regarded as if it were a flu that could be transmitted to the good by contact. Like many of us still today, they thought that the way God’s plan worked was that first one had to have a conversion experience and then they could approach God. Jesus was very direct in proclaiming that God works the other way around. It is always God who makes the first move, seeking us out before we have the conversion experience. In fact, it is that encounter with God that causes the conversion experience.

Jesus is passing through Jericho and is surrounded by a great throng of people. While many of them have come out to see the “miracle worker”, many more are attracted to Jesus by who he is, rather than by what he does. Jesus was different from most people, more authenticate, more truthful, more challenging. Jesus was not afraid of “catching” evil. He sought out those who society considered worthless or impure. Some commentators on this passage try to make this into a story about resisting prejudices; that Jesus was able to see past Zacchaeus’ job to see a man who was really good at heart. But that is not what the evidence in the story suggests. Zacchaeus was not only a hated tax collector, a traitor who worked for the Romans, but he was a very rich tax collector. That could only mean one thing: Zacchaeus was cheating people, overcharging them taxes so he could pocket whatever was above what the Romans demanded from him. He was despicable. But Jesus still wants to come to dinner at his house. It is in the experience of that encounter with Jesus that Zacchaeus has a conversion. From now on, he will give half his possessions to the poor, and now he will try to repay those he has cheated in the past. God’s truth and love change those who encounter it in person.

So God’s plan to bring all things into one under Christ involves God seeking out those who are lost, and through the power that love has to change those who come face to face with it, transform the lost. And that is precisely what we are doing here right now. We come together to thank God for loving us and saving us, and to be formed more fully into the body of Christ that brings God’s love and truth and beauty face to face with those who are lost. In God’s plan it is not the good who deserve to encounter God, but the sinful who God desires to encounter.

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