31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON NOVEMBER 3RD, 2019 (R. 1: Wisdom 11: 22- 12:2; Psalm 145: 1- 2, 8- 11, 13- 14; R. 2: 2 Thessalonians 1: 11- 2: 2; Gospel: Luke 19: 1- 10)
REVD FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
… WHAT DO YOU SEE?
A young man and his wife moved into their new home. The next morning at breakfast, his wife saw one of their neighbors drying her laundry outside. She commented to her husband, “Hmmm, those clothes are not clean; the lady does not know how to wash. Perhaps, she needs a better laundry soap.” Her husband replied, “Really?” The woman made the same comment every time she saw the neighbor drying her laundry. A month later, she was surprised to see her neighbor drying clean clothes on the line. She said to her husband, “Look, she finally got it right, perhaps someone recently taught her how to wash, or she got a different laundry soap.” Her husband smiled and replied, “The truth is, because of the time change (daylight saving) this morning, I woke up one hour earlier than usual, and I cleaned our windows for the first time; that is why you can see how clean her clothes are.” And that is the story of our life! What we see when we look at others depends a lot on the quality of the window through which we look at them.
A prominent name in today’s gospel passage is Zacchaeus. This passage is the only place this name appears in the New Testament. To have a good understanding of the event in today’s gospel passage, we need to take a step backward and look at some of the things that took place in the previous chapter. In Luke 18, Jesus talked about who gets to enter the Kingdom of God. He said, only those who receive the Kingdom of God like little children will be able to enter it. A rich ruler came to test how fit he was for the Kingdom of God. Jesus praised him for keeping the commandments. Only one more thing was required of him, to sell his possession, give to the poor, and follow Jesus. But that was too hard for him to take. Jesus then pointed out how humanly impossible it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. The final event in chapter 18 is the cure of a blind beggar near Jericho. When he first called on Jesus to help him, the crowd rebuked him, but he shouted all the louder, and he got the attention of Jesus and received his sight.
At the beginning of Chapter 19, we meet another rich man, Zacchaeus, who got his wealth from a bad profession. He was a tax collector. Jesus had already said in the previous chapter that it is humanly impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Here is not just a rich man, but one with ill-gotten wealth. For the crowd, Zacchaeus must be a perfect practical teaching aid to illustrate what Jesus said earlier about the rich and the Kingdom of God. The crowd could not wait to see how Jesus would read out his punishment. You can only imagine the disappointment in the crowd when Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down from the sycamore tree and be his chief host. But how is this rich man different from the previous rich man? Zacchaeus had something that the other rich man lacked. Even though he was rich, he did not lose the child-like ability to keep seeking the truth. He received the kingdom like a little child. Without minding what the crowd thinks of him, he climbed the tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus, who came not to destroy sinners but “to seek and to save what was lost,” became his guest.
Before Jesus got to Zacchaeus, he first restored the sight of the blind beggar at the entrance of the city of Jericho. The cure of the blind beggar prepares us for the importance of sight in our journey through life, for what we see when we look determines a lot of things in our lives. Zaccheaus wanted to see Jesus, but Jesus had already seen him, and so, he beckoned on him to come down quickly to lead him to his house. What do you see when you look?
No one from the crowd calls Zacchaeus by name. They only see in him the chief tax collector, the public sinner. They do not see anything good in him. Interestingly enough, the name Zaccheaus means “Clean” or “Righteous.” Jesus calls him by his beautiful name. The crowd looks and sees a sinner, but Jesus looks at the same Zacchaeus and sees beyond a sinner; he sees the potential Saint; he sees one who sincerely longs for God. The difference is the quality of the window through which they look. We must be slow to judge, especially when our windows are stained by pride, anger, envy, jealousy, negativity, prejudice or unfulfilled desires.
So, what do we see when we look at people? Through which window do we look at people? Do we look at people through the eyes of Jesus or the eyes of the crowd? Have you noticed how often we describe people based on their disabilities rather than their abilities? Have you seen how our attention is more easily captivated by people’s defects? For instance, we tend to use more terms like, “the drunkard,” “the prostitute,” “the homeless,” “the divorcee’’ “the single mom,” “the drug-addict,” and “the ex-convict.” I have even heard parents describe their children in terms of disabilities. They say things like, “my autistic son,” my bipolar daughter,” or they use other names like ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). But there is more to these children than such labels. Through the eyes of Jesus, we will be able to focus on the unique ability that is hidden in their disability. And how would you like others to see you? Through the eyes of Jesus or the eyes of the crowd? At the end of today, try a brief examination of conscience and find out how many times you described people based on their abilities versus how many times you described people based on their disabilities.
The story ends with dinner. It ends with the banquet that comes as a result of the conversion of a sinner. The first reading reminds us that God does not hate what he creates. Heaven celebrates the conversion of every sinner. Jesus wants us to be part of the eternal banquet in heaven. Who are those taking part in the feast in today’s gospel passage, and who is left out? The upright should have been the ones enjoying the banquet; unfortunately, they are outside complaining and grumbling, because they do not approve of the type of guests that are at the feast with Jesus. The self-righteous are outside like the brother of the prodigal son. Inside the banquet hall are the “sinners,” those that Jesus came for, with Zacchaeus the chief of them all.
My dearly beloved in Christ, what do you see when you look? Where do you want to be for the eternal banquet? Inside the hall or outside, grumbling and complaining? The choice is yours!