17 November 2008

Curiosity is not enough

Dedication of SS. Peter and Paul: Rv 3:1-6, 14-22; Lk 19:1-10
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma


There are any number of reasons that people will clamor to see the Lord as he passes by. There are the merely curious. Those who love a good crowd and the potential for entertainment that a crowd offers. There are the pitiable, those who seek the attention of the famous and infamous alike. Those who flock to celebrity hoping to become celebrities themselves. There are those who seek mystery, those who long for hidden knowledge and run after any and every teacher who comes to town. Some rush around looking for spectacular signs of prophecy, wondrous markers for the end of days, hoping to be better prepared just in case today or tomorrow is the day of judgment. And there are likely those in the crowd waiting for Jesus who are seduced by his promise of mercy, that is, like fish drawn to fresh bait, they are lured and hooked by the Word Jesus preaches. Despite their gross spiritual negligence—or perhaps because of it—because of their incessant wallowing in sin, they find themselves snatched from the disobedience of pride and begging at the feet of Christ for forgiveness. We have Zacchaeus, short in stature but hardly short on zeal. He is not clamoring to see Jesus out of a need for entertainment or out of mere curiosity. He knows his sin; he knows he needs forgiveness; and he knows that Christ is the font of the Father’s mercy. Do we? Do we know what this sinner knows?

We can easily make two simple mistakes reading this story from Luke. We can make the mistake the crowd makes and find ourselves outraged that a holy man like Jesus would defile himself by speaking and eating with a notorious sinner. The more contemporary mistake is to assume that since Jesus speaks and eats with this notorious sinner, he approves of the sinner’s sin. We think: Jesus is openly declaring that this sinner’s sins are not sins after all and that he, the sinner, is welcomed unrepentant to the Lord’s table. How many times have we heard about Jesus’ “radical hospitality,” that Jesus “never turned anyone away.” True. As far as it goes. But what makes this understanding of Christ’s radical hospitality a mistake is that it leaves unsaid the equally radical implication of accepting Christ’s hospitality. The story of the Chief Tax-collector of Jericho, Zacchaeus, is the story of what happens when we run to the opened-arms of the Lord: to run toward Christ with our sin is to run away from sin altogether.

Do we know this? Very likely. But do we climb trees, peering over the heads of our peers, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source of our forgiveness? How zealous are we in pursuing the need for repentance? Exactly how eager are we to throw our sins out there, have them examined by a judgmental crowd, and then embarrass ourselves by begging Christ for forgiveness? Have we grown luke-warm? Or do we have the zeal of a true sinner for mercy? Can we imitate this despicable tax-collector? This traitor?

Christ greets Zacchaeus with joy. Not because he rejoices in the tax-collector’s sin but because Zacchaeus comes to him despite his sin to have that sin washed away. Jesus announces to the crowd, pointing to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house. . .For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Zacchaeus was found but only because he knew that he was lost.

1 comment:

  1. Simple clean and right on target.

    ReplyDelete