31st Sunday in Ordinary time, 30 Oct 2016

From the Dean’s Desk

This Sunday’s Gospel [Luke 19:1-10] is another story of God’s mercy and grace in the life of a sinner. It holds for us the notion of God’s intimate and surprising presence in the lives of those who least expect to receive God’s mercy. We begin the passage with Jesus’ entry into the city of Jericho, a well-positioned city in the Jordan Valley. Because of its geographic location and industry, it was a city which was a source of great revenue for the Romans. Here in Jericho we meet Zacchaeus, a tax collector who had climbed to the top of his profession. The presumption here is that Zacchaeus achieved this position by taxing the people more than was required, thus keeping the ‘profit’ for himself.

There are three stages in this Gospel story of Zacchaeus. In the first phase we find out that Zacchaeus is lonely and unhappy even though he was extremely wealthy. His wealth gained from overtaxing the people had placed him as a social pariah – an outcast within his own town. He had heard of Jesus’ love and association with tax collectors and he had a desire to meet him. Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus by communi-cating with other tax officials. In his loneliness and isolation, Zacchaeus is reaching out for God! In the second phase we see that Zacchaeus is determined and eager to see and meet Jesus. He realises that if he mingles with the crowd on the ground he might be in for a rough time. People may jolt, elbow, kick and jostle him about. It would have been a good opportunity for the people to anonymously get back at this man who had made himself rich with their money! But nonetheless, Zacchaeus shows his determination and courage as he climbs a tree in order to not miss Jesus’ arrival. The third stage has us encounter the converted and changed Zacchaeus. He goes to great lengths to show the community that he is genuinely a changed man. In finding Jesus and the mercy, acceptance and friendship he had shown him, he was willing to use half his property to give to the poor. The other half he would use to make good – four times over – the money that he took unlawfully from others. We can see something of the determination of the widow in the Gospel two Sundays ago [Luke 18:1-8], where her persistence and determination won her some justice from the judge.

What begins as a story about sinfulness, avarice and isolation becomes a story of salvation and redemption and a reminder of the mission of Jesus. Jesus himself announces today that he has ‘come to seek out and save what is lost.’ It is a story that reminds us of the surprising ways in which God comes into our lives with his mercy, grace and call to conversion. Zacchaeus’ willingness to see what kind of man Jesus was resulted in his conversion and salvation. Do we in our times of difficulty and spiritual isolation seek the company of Jesus? Perhaps in this coming week we can examine our lives and identify anything that could be isolating me from God and others, and like Zacchaeus have the determination to seek Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness and so be restored to the community and God. God’s mercy is always available to us – we only need to seek it and ask for it.

Fr Robert Bossini
Dean and Parish Priest