31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The First Reading today reminds us that God loves all he has made – and he created it all – and cares for its good. From something as amazing as the sun, that lights our way and warms us, down to the littlest speck of dust, God cares for it. Unlike us, God cares for those things since they are for our good. He made the sun so we could see and be warm, he made the dust so that we could clean our house … maybe you ask yourselves right now, “Having to clean my house is a GOOD thing?” “If he really cared, why didn’t he just make everything clean forever?” Because the most wonderful thing he created of all is us, and, unlike the Sun, which just shines and warms and does nothing else, or the dust, which just floats around and lands on our furniture, God created us in a way that we can decide to do good things, and by deciding to do good things, like cleaning our house, helping our brothers and sisters, loving our children, doing our work well, we grow in goodness and holiness and become happier and happier.

He knows we need challenges to grow and to really be happy and satisfied, because he created us to only be fully satisfied when we are with him in Heaven some day. If we had everything done for us, how boring that would be: we think if everything were easier, we’d be happier, but we’d just get really bored, because real happiness and satisfaction start in the world, and lead us to Heaven, where we will be completely happy by being with God. Would scoring a goal in soccer make us happy if we put it in the net every time without any effort? We train and we practice and we get around the defense and we barely make the kick, and when that goal goes in, we’re happy that we have scored a goal after so many challenges and hard work. So in the big things and the little things that happen in our lives, we know the reason for them is found in the plan God has for them and for us. It’s a plan to make us happy, and someday will make us completely happy.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that we have a big challenge and something very important to do in God’s plan. St. Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica, and tells us, that he is praying for God to help us become worthy of our calling. What is our calling? What does God want us to do? He calls us to be his friends. Jesus told the apostles in the Last Supper, “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” God’s dream is that we be his friend. He shows his friendship through all the things he has created for our good, and he shows it by becoming man and living with us as Jesus, teaching us, and dying for us on the Cross. To be a friend with anyone, you have to know them first, and it is something that they have to show and you have to show as well.

Sometimes we say that our friends “go out of their way” for us, or we go out of our way for them. We bring them something from work that they forgot, or they stop by our house on the way home to say hello. They didn’t have to, they had to go out of their way, but they do it for friendship. Sometimes instead of “going out of our way” for our friends, we just try to “get away” from them instead: they ask us for more than we want to give them, to do more than we want to do, and that is where real friendship is tested. Friendship is wanting to do something good for your friend just because he or she is your friend. If so do something for your friend just because you want him or her to do something for you, you’re doing it for yourself more than you are doing it for your friend. Sometimes our friends show us more friendship than we show them by “going out of their way” for us when we don’t feel like going out of our way for them.

Jesus was Zacchaeus’ friend from all eternity, because Jesus created Zacchaeus to be his friend. God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – created us from all eternity to be his friend, and out of friendship. God is all‑powerful and doesn’t need anything or anyone. He created us entirely out of love. Zacchaeus didn’t know Our Lord was his friend when he heard someone special was passing through Jericho in the Gospel today, but something inside him made him want to find out who Jesus was. It was a challenge to find out: the crowd was big, and nobody in the town liked him, because he was a tax collector, and the Jews at that time considered tax collectors traitors, because they cheated people out of their money. Zacchaeus didn’t give up. He ran ahead of the crowd and Jesus, and climbed up a tall tree to get a better view, and Jesus didn’t just walk by: he stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at Zacchaeus. At the start of the Gospel it said Jesus only intended to pass through Jericho and probably keep going to another town, but here he was, not just stopping and looking at Zacchaeus, but asking to stay in his house. Jesus said in another part of the Gospel to his disciples that when they visit a town, they should just stay at one house. When Jesus said, “come down quickly … I must stay at your house” to Zacchaeus, he was saying he was Zacchaeus’ friend. And Zacchaeus literally jumped for joy, because jumping is the only way you can quickly come down a tree – thankfully he didn’t break a leg.

The people in the town couldn’t handle this. “He is going to stay in the house of a sinner?!” For them, Jesus was friends with a sinner. Jesus a friend of every sinner, even when they are not friends with him. He has been our friend from all eternity. Jesus wouldn’t deny his friendship with Zacchaeus, even though Zacchaeus did bad things. Zacchaeus had a chance to show he really wanted to be Jesus’ friend. He knew what everyone was thinking, and so he told everyone he would repay anything he’d stolen, and give half of what he owned to the poor. Jesus rejoiced that his friend had changed his ways.

Let’s thank our Lord for going out of his way for us. Every time we receive the Eucharist, Jesus is saying, I want to stay in the home of your heart. I want to be your friend. So we must show that we accept his friendship by doing good and loving each other, nd whenever we get lost or go far away for him by doing bad things, by sinning, Jesus comes to us through the sacrament of Confession and makes us friends with him again. No matter how lost we are, no matter how far away we go, he’s always ready to come find us as a good friend. Let’s ask for the grace to always show the same friendship and go out of our way for him.

Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 11:22–12:2; 145:1–2, 8–11, 13, 14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1–10. See also 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.