03 November 2013

Do you seek to know who Jesus is? (updated)

(An edited version of the 2007 homily I posted earlier. . .)

UPDATE: I ended up ditching this text and preaching off-the-cuff. Don't know why. It went over well. One older gentleman told me that in 60+ yrs of listening to homilies he'd never heard a preacher explain the significance of the sycamore tree! The Egyptians thought of sycamores as the Trees of Life and used the wood for coffins. 

31st Sunday OT(C) 
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Like Zecchaeus, do you seek to see (to know) who Jesus is? This could be a good definition of hope. When you hope, you seek to see (to know) who Jesus is. Living in us, redeemed creatures that we are, is a beastly longing for God, a need that roars out for our Lord, reaching for him, yearning for He Who made us and re-makes us. Knowing that He is there and knowing that He makes it possible for us to be with Him only sharpens the aggravated need, hones the fine steel of our wanting. That knowing, that knowledge of His presence and the keenness we feel in moving toward Him, that is what we call Hope. But for how many of us is hoping a kind of gamble? Think how you use the word “hope.” I hope my paycheck has arrived. I hope the children are OK. I hope the doctor’s report is good. Hopefully, the car is fixed. Is this really hope? Or, is it “crossed-fingers-wishing-on-a-star-where’s-my-lucky-charm-so-I-can-rub-it-and-increase-the-odds-in-my-favor” thinking? How often, when you hope, are you actually doing little more than wishing yourself good luck? Christian hope, that is, that sort of hope that Christians experience in Christ and that sort of hope that we live by is never a gamble, never a wish, never a spell for good luck. Hope is our gnawing hunger for God, a hunger we KNOW will be satisfied.

“Zacchaeus…was seeking to see who Jesus was;…so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus…” Christian hope—our longing for Christ—is what pushed Zacchaeus up the tree; hope is what pulled him up into the branches to see who he needed to see. And what’s important for us to remember about Zacchaeus is who he is; that is, not only his name, his short stature, and his need to see Jesus, but his place in the Jewish scheme of things as well. He is “a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man…” Zacchaeus is doubly damned as a sinner by his neighbors because he has betrayed them by working for the enemy, and because he has grown rich in his chosen, traitorous profession. Only lepers and pagan temple prostitutes were considered more sinful! And yet, he seeks to see who Jesus is. Do you seek to see (to know) who Jesus is? 

Who is he? The Book of Wisdom tells us that “before the Lord the whole universe is a grain from a balance…a drop of morning dew…” However, despite our smallness, in spite of our insignificance before Him, “[the Lord has] mercy on all, because [He] can do all things; and [He] overlooks people’s sins that they may repent.” If Zacchaeus knows this, if he knew his scripture, and if he knew and believed that Jesus is his Lord, then climbing that sycamore tree is sure sign of his hope. Zacchaeus knew, and we must learn, that “[The Lord] love[s] all things that are and loathe[s] nothing that [He] has made; for what [He] hate[s], [He] would not have fashioned.” 

Why must we learn this? Simple. If you believe that our Lord hates what He has fashioned, including you and me, then your hope will always be a gamble. Your spiritual life will be full of good luck rituals, charm bracelet prayers, and magical thinking. You will turn every corner tensed, expecting a nasty, divine surprise. You will go to bed every night believing that your hateful god will take the opportunity to punish your laziness, to strike your sinful heart dead. You will look at your family, your friends, your fellow Christians and see nothing but walking, talking occasions of sin, breathing temptations that plague your worried attempts at finding favor, finding love in God. And you live a life that daily, hourly makes a lie out of the truth of our Father’s self-revelation to us: “…you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all thing!” All things! Including your family, your friends, your fellow Christians. 

Do you seek to see (to know) who Jesus is? 

Do you seek to see Jesus in your neighbors, your roommates, your parents? If not, why not? Is it that your neighbors, roommates, parents are all horribly wrong? Or, is it that they are pro-abortion, or homosexual, or divorced, or adulterers? Or, is it that they do not share your theology? Or pray as you do? Or share your devotional practices, your sense of social justice, your indignation with the anti-Christian Obama administration, or your disdain for the corporate Fat Cat Republicans? Or, is it because we so often fail to see the truth of our creation and our re-creation? Do we not see Christ in ourselves and others b/c we cannot see beyond our own sin? Why would we allow any of these to spoil our hope, to mess with our beautiful God-graced passion for the Lord? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! 

If you are worried that this seeking Christ in self and others will lead to a license to sin, or will lead you to approve of sin, listen to the rest of Wisdom. Our Lord’s imperishable spirit is in all the things He created, “therefore, [He] rebukes offenders little by little, warns them and reminds them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in [Him]…!” Our Lord does not forget His creatures. He does not forget that we are His creatures and that we share His image and likeness. In fact, Paul tells the Thessalonians, that he, Paul, and his ministers will pray for them so “that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Does this sound like a God ready, willing, and able to stomp on you at the first sign of disobedience? No! And not only NO! but God is ready to “make you worthy of his calling.” Isn’t it the case that our anxieties about sin, our worries about offending God are really just a disguise for a lack of hope? Aren’t we really worried about the sins of our neighbors, our children, our roommates b/c we are distrusting of our Father’s promise of mercy for ourselves? How ironic would it be if you put yourself in Hell because you spent your life worried about other peoples' sin and failed to hope in Christ!? 

Zacchaeus climbs that sycamore tree because he “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” And because he acts out of his longing for Christ, Jesus calls his name and says, “…come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus climbs down and “receives [Christ] with joy.” And what do the self-righteous do? What do those whose hope is a gamble, those whose hope is a lucky star, what do they do then? “When they all saw this, they began to grumble…” And rather than run away in shame or hide his face in disgrace, Zacchaeus, confident in his Lord’s word and his own repentance, gives half his wealth to the poor and makes restitution four times over for his extortion. Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house…” 

Do you seek to see (to know) who Jesus is? Do you seek to see Jesus in your neighbors, your roommates, your parents, and friends? If so, then prepare to receive the Lord at your table; prepare to entertain him among those in most need of his mercy. Your hope is working for your perfection and Christ is coming to dinner! If your hope remains a wishing-star or lucky charm, then memorize this prayer from scripture: “Lord, you love all things that are and loathe nothing you have made; for what you hate, you would not have fashioned…But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” 

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  1. Liked how you brought all three readings in - thanks!

    1. I ended up not using this at all. . .went "off the cuff." Just seemed right at the time. It worked.

    2. Getting a little brazen there, aren't you Fr. Director of Homiletics! Off the cuff for a Sunday homily? You do realize that if you preach off the cuff you are required under penalty of Something Terribly Dire to record your homily so we can hear it, yes?

      The "off the cuff" homily I heard today went on and on . . . and on for nearly 30 minutes. If it had been good, that would have been one thing, but alas . . .

    3. It was a last second decision. Mea culpa!

  2. Ditching a Vintage homily...? What was wrong with you, Fr...?

    But, seriously, if you say the off-the-cuff preaching went over well, then it means that you've managed to keep the theme/structure of it and present it in an informal way, which is the "best of both worlds" (at least from a listener point-of-view), isn't it?