31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings teach us that God cares for everything he has created (and, except for Himself, he has created everything). More importantly, they teach us that the Lord not only cares for us as his creatures or his servants, but as his friends, whether we reciprocate that or not.

The First Reading today reminds us that God loves and cares for all he has created. 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 and have something to do. 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. 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 an important part in God’s plan. St. Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica that he is praying for God to help us be worthy of our calling: 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 too. Our Lord has shown time and again that he is our friend.

Jesus was Zacchaeus’ friend from all eternity. Jesus created Zacchaeus to be his friend. Zacchaeus didn’t know Our Lord was his friend when he heard he 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. Zacchaeus didn’t give up. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed up a tall tree to get a better view. 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.

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. 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.

Today the crowd, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is not enabling Zacchaeus to see Our Lord, making Zacchaeus resort to drastic measures. There are those in the crowd who already dislike him for being a tax collector. Zacchaeus doesn’t care about appearing ridiculous; he just wants to see Jesus. Our Lord rewards him by standing up for him before the entire crowd. This doesn’t mean Zacchaeus was not a sinner. The crowd accuses him of it, and Our Lord himself says salvation has come to someone who was lost. If Zacchaeus had not managed to see Jesus, who knows what would have happened? When we size people up and find them lacking, or judge them, we mustn’t make that a pretext to write them off and not help them meet Our Lord. We shouldn’t close ranks and prevent them from drawing closer to the person for whom we’re together in the first place: Our Lord. Let’s not be shy about helping people draw closer to Jesus through us, no matter what they’ve done in the past.

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.