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Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Opening Prayer: Lord you are gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. Lord, you are good to all and compassionate toward all your works. Come, Lord Jesus, enter my heart and grant me the grace to receive you mind, heart, and soul.
- Jesus Passes Through: “At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.” When Jesus “passed through,” it was not merely to make his way from one town to the next; nothing with God happens by chance. Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, was on the prowl to reclaim his people, his pride. Jesus did not attack, he did not force himself on Zacchaeus. When he passed Zacchaeus, who was “seeking to see who Jesus was,” Jesus made himself present to him and called him by name: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Pope Francis wrote in Joy of the Gospel, “Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”
- Received with Joy: “When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, ‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.’ And he came down quickly and received him with joy.” Did Jesus receive Zacchaeus with joy or is it Zacchaeus who received Jesus with joy? Both! As chief tax collector Zacchaeus had been adept at skimming off the top and taking unfair advantage of people. However, when Zacchaeus encountered Jesus, he recognized his spiritual poverty and opened his heart to receive Jesus. This openness is what Jesus called poor in spirit: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). We can be poor in spirit and still possess a full bank account like Zacchaeus if we also possess humility. To be humble is to know our place before God. To be humble also means “low in height, level; small in size,” which Zacchaeus was both physically and spiritually, as indicated by his willingness to literally go out on a limb in order to receive Jesus. How willing are we to open our hearts and minds to a deeper understanding of God? How willing are we to receive “a tax collector” in kindness and hospitality.
- Salvation Has Come: Jesus must have proclaimed with infinite joy, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” In other passages, Jesus called our attention to his joy over the lost sheep who had been found, the lost coin that had been recovered, the prodigal son who returned. We share in Jesus’ rejoicing every time we help a “Zacchaeus” return to the Church family. And with profound gratitude, we can rejoice every time we, ourselves, are forgiven in the sacrament of Reconciliation for having gone astray. “… there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, thank you for your mercy toward me, a sinner. By receiving you open the way for me to witness to my family and loved ones so that they may one day receive you as did Zacchaeus. I know that you rejoice over saving what has been lost. Come! Seek! Save! I believe in you, Jesus.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will receive you in the Trinity by praying the Our Father prayer and inviting you to dwell in the deepest recesses of my heart.
For Further Reflection: Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel).
Nan Balfour is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She volunteers as a writer and speaker for Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry that answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter him so as to live in hope as pilgrims in daily life.