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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Reflection/Homily: Thirty-First (31st) Sunday in Ordinary Time of the Year C

Theme: Radical Conversion and Transformation on Encountering Christ

Today’s gospel reading (Luke 19:1-10) presents us with the encounter Zacchaeus had with Jesus which led him to a radical conversion and transformation. Jesus was passing through Jericho when Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Similarly, Jesus constantly passes through our lives in the experiences we have, places we visit and persons we meet. Like Zacchaeus do we make any effort to encounter him even in the least possible way? Encountering Jesus simply means giving him the attention he needs in order for us to be converted to him and be transformed. In our encounter with Jesus, we are only but recipients of divine favour. It is Jesus who truly works for us to encounter him. Like the parables of the lost sheep and coin, he is the owner looking for his own. But there could be a number of things that could prevent us from encountering him.

Ordinarily speaking, Zacchaeus though short would have seen Jesus if there were no crowd surrounding him. His inability to see Jesus was not so much dependent on his size because it was no fault of his. Instead, it depended more on the surmountable obstacle the crowd imposed on him. Therefore, he needed to go away from the crowd in other to see and encounter Jesus. This crowd for us could mean a number of things. It could be a relationship, a sinful habit, an environment, an attitude of the mind, an association with a sect or group or even an unsound doctrine or belief that could prevent us from having a clear view of the presence of Christ around us. To encounter Christ therefore, we have to alienate ourselves from these obstacles by aiming to be higher than them as Zacchaeus did. The tree had to augment the height he naturally lacked.

Most often, the crowd tends to impose certain limitations on us. These limitations could be in the form of ideologies or simply put the “popular mentality” which includes the vain feeling of self-pride. Zacchaeus conquered this mentality by humbling himself to climb a tree. Even Jesus had to work against this mentality which considered it unfit for him to associate himself with supposed sinners. This merited Zacchaeus the favour or receiving a divine invitation from Jesus.

Biblical scholars have advanced two interpretations of the encounter Zacchaeus had with Jesus in his home based on how one understands the words he addressed to Jesus: “Half of my goods Lord, I give to the poor and if I have cheated anyone, I pay him back four time as much”. The first interpretation is that Zacchaeus, a sinner underwent a radical conversion and transformation that enabled him to do what the rich and devout Jew of Mathew 19:21 could not do (sharing his possessions with the poor and following Jesus). By implication, an encounter with God could transform us into better Christians. The second interpretation, so much conscious of the expression “if I have cheated …” considers Zacchaeus perhaps as a truly righteous man whom the crowd identifies as a sinner because of his profession as a tax collector. But Jesus truly judges who a man is and not who people thinks he is. Last Sunday, he praised a repentant tax collector against a proud and arrogant Pharisee. Today, he praises a tax collector whom he knows to be a good and generous person. 

God truly sees in us unique individuals and not stereotypes. He is more interested in our positive potentialities than in our negative actualities. He wants the best in us because He loves us. The first reading (Wis. 11:22-12:2) reminds us of this fact that the Lord loves all that exist and would not have made anything if he hated it. Though we are sinners, He knows we can be saints if we cooperate with His grace. That is why we don’t have to judge people as stereotypes by condemning them as sinners on account of their profession, race or religion. Therefore beloved brethren, like St. Paul in the second reading (2 Thess. 1:11-2:2), let us pray that God may make us worthy of His calling as his children. So that each encounter we have with Him will bring about a radical conversion and transformation in us and qualify us to be with Him at the second coming. Happy Sunday for God loves you.

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