Homily for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Fr. Ugochukwu Ugwoke, ISch
Scriptural Texts: Wisdom 11:22-12:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, Luke 19:1-10)
With the story of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus in the gospel reading of today, we once again see Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi being favorably disposed towards the tax collectors thereby going against the established custom of the Jewish people. The tax collectors were despised by the Jews. They were looked upon by the Jews as sinners and criminals, and they avoided associating with them. They were treated like social outcasts. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and not just an ordinary tax collector but he was a chief tax collector; a ringer leader of the agents of Roman oppression who had grown rich from the ill-gotten wealth. When Zacchaeus heard that Jesus had entered Jericho and was passing through, he had only one wish: to catch a glimpse of Jesus (Luke 19:3).
Sadly, Zacchaeus was not able to see Jesus on account of the crowd given that he was a man of short stature. In other words, he ran into difficulties and limitations. But Zacchaeus did not allow these limitations hinder him from pursuing his goal of seeing Jesus. What he did next is so amazing. St. Luke tells us that he ran on ahead of him (a high-ranking tax collector running in the public) and climbed up into a sycamore tree (being a short rich man and probably with a pot belly and not so young, it must have taken him a great deal of stress and effort to climb up into that tree) (Luke 19:4). By climbing the tree in order to see Jesus, Zacchaeus broke every obstacle and rose above his limitations. He did not allow his stature (height) and status (sinner) stop him from reaching his goal. He had every reason to give up on his quest, but he refused not give in. He surmounted all the evident obstacles and never stopped trying until he achieved what he set out for. At the end of the day, his resilience not only achieved his sole aim of simply seeing what Jesus looked like but he ended up having Jesus under his roof and winning salvation for himself and his entire household. He came to see Jesus but ended up being seen by Jesus (Luke 19:7-9).
The people were not happy that Jesus went to dine with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:7). To the people, Zacchaeus was simply a sinner who deserved to be despised and condemned, but to Jesus, Zacchaeus was a sinner, yes, but one who deserved to be saved. Jesus saw Zacchaeus in a different light as a son of Abraham and a beneficiary of the salvation that he, Jesus has brought. It is actually for people like Zacchaeus that Jesus came. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:1-10). As the first reading tells us, God the Almighty is merciful to all; he overlooks sins and gives his children time to repent (Wisdom 11:23).
This story leaves us with a lot of lessons. In a world where people easily give up on their goals and dreams in the face of the slightest obstacle, the example of Zacchaeus urges us to be resilient and to keep trying. The attitude of Zacchaeus reminds us to never rest on our oars. We can achieve anything we set our mind to. There are no limits to what we can achieve; the only limits are those that we set in our mind. Zacchaeus dreamt of seeing Jesus, he believed that this dream was possible, and he took every action to actualize it. Like Zacchaeus, we should be ready to move beyond our limits, the conformist zone, the average zone, the mediocre and the timid zone. We should never allow our circumstance to constrain us from attaining the height we want in life. We have to go after what we want or we will be confined to the life that we have stumbled into. May God help us not to be content with mediocrity.