Deacon Cornell’s Homily

Readings:    Wisdom 11:22-12:2
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10
Date: October 29-30, 2022, Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

A couple decided to take their toddler son out to dinner at a sit down restaurant. As they walked into the restaurant, the boy spotted a shiny dime on the ground, and unnoticed by his parents, picked it up and put it in his mouth. As they were being seated, the boy started to choke on the coin. First the parents, and then several other diners, tried to dislodge it but he kept choking on it more and more. Finally one of the diners got up from his chair, walked over, took the boy and suspended him upside down by his legs, put hist arm around his midsection, and with a couple of well placed squeezes, the coin popped out. The parents were over joyed and kept thanking the man, finally asking, "How were you able to squeeze that dime out when no one else could? Are you a doctor?" "No", the man replied, "I work for the IRS".

Tax collectors are never popular people but even more so in Jesus' time since the tax collectors were Jews who were looked at as traitors, working for the Romans against their own people. They made their own income by collecting more than the Romans demanded, keeping the extra as their income. So the fact that Zaccheus was a "rich" tax collector meant he really gouged his fellow Jews to line his own pockets.

As is the case for most Gospel stories there are a number of ways we can understand this story of Zaccheus and Jesus. One of the most popular is the recurring theme that runs through Luke's Gospel of Jesus coming to bring salvation to the poor, to the outcasts, to the sick. Using this frame of reference, we are invited to see that Jesus does not follow the norms of his culture which would lead people to avoid the outcasts, since they were looked at as being in that state as a result of sinfulness. We saw that a few weeks ago in the story of the 10 lepers that Jesus healed. So by analogy we are called as Christians to pay special attention to those who society often overlooks or marginalizes. This is a very important lesson for us to learn given the state of our culture which seems to think up ways to ostracize new groups of people, or to find new ways to push people deeper into poverty daily. But how does Zaccheus fall into this class? He isn't poor; he does have an illness shunned by society (other than being short!). Why would Jesus seek him out and show him special kindness, that preferential option for the poor? I would suggest that the lesson here is that poverty comes in many shapes. Just because someone is not poor in things of the world does not mean they are not yearning for salvation, that they are not poor in the riches of salvation, of the kingdom of God. I think this is a lessson that is especially important for those of us who live in the relatively affluent parts of the world to pay special attention to.

But if we are to really benefit from this or any Gospel lesson, I would suggest that we need to see ourselves in the story. For some of us, we might see, at least a little bit of ourselves in Zaccheus, longing deep down for what Jesus brings to us but feeling that something is keeping us from that encounter. But for most of us, certainly all of us who are baptized, we need to see ourselves as Jesus in this story. You see when Jesus says, "Salvation has come to this house today", he is just stating the obvious. I say that because salvation is not a thing; it is not a judgment that we passed the test. Salvation is a person; actually 3 persons. Salvation is a personal encounter with God. Jesus might as well have said: I have come to this house today. God's plan for the salvation of creation is most dramatically displayed in the mystery of the incarnation. God became human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth so that humans could more easily encounter God, in a humanly recognizable way. The thread that runs through Luke's gospel highlights the truth that God yearns to be encountered by each of us, and by all of us. There are no human beings who have so ostracized themselves that God does not seek them out, to whom God does not say I must stay at your house today.

The incarnation was not a once and done event, as evidenced by our gathering here today and each Sunday to celebrate Eucharist. God's plan to make it possible to more easily encounter God continues through the Mystical Body of Christ. By baptism, and reinforced through Eucharist, we are commissioned to continue to be the incarnation of God's love here and now, seeking out those who most need to encounter salvation, and in some cases, most long for that encounter with salvation in the flesh, who is Christ.

In that second reading we just heard, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling." Echoing Paul, my prayer today is that we enter as fully as we can in to this celebration of Eucharist, renewing and deepening our baptismal call to be the body of Christ here and now so that we might be more aware of those whom God puts in our paths this week, in a crowd, in our homes or places of business, hanging fromthe branches of a sycamore tree or standing right in front of us, and as the Body of Christ be the salvation that has come to that person today.

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