Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
There’s a story about a married couple—I’m not sure what their names were, but let’s call them Lawrence and Sarah—who had been married 15 years. Larry and Sarah began to have more than the usual trouble that married couples have and they started to feel as if they had lost their way and that their marriage was in crisis. Neither of them was ready to give up on the marriage, however, so they both decided to work on it. Sarah had an idea of how to turn things around. Her idea was to make a box: one for Larry and one for her. The boxes were “Fault Boxes” and the idea was that every time either Larry or Sarah was irritated by something the other one did, he or she would write what that was on a slip of paper and drop it in the box. Then, when the other one saw what had been written, he or she would be aware of many of the ways that he or she created tension between them.
Both Sarah and Larry were diligent in filling out the little slips of paper. Then, after doing this for a month, the couple sat down after dinner one night to open their boxes and review all of the little slips. As Larry flipped through the pieces of paper he read things like “leaving the jelly top off of the jar,” “wet towels on the bathroom floor,” “dirty socks not in the hamper,” and on and on. Larry began to think seriously about how the little things to which he didn’t pay much attention were creating big problems in his wife’s heart. Sarah then opened her box and began to read the little slips. They all said the same thing. On each slip of paper that Larry dropped in the box he wrote, simply, “I love you.” Needless, perhaps, to say, but the crisis ended right there.
What Larry demonstrated was the power of mercy. You see, it wasn’t that he didn’t think that Sarah had any faults, nor was it that he was trying to get her to ignore his own faults, but rather it was that he decided to cover over those faults with mercy. And isn’t this exactly what God does with us? In the Book of Wisdom, today’s first reading, we read: “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned… But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” God loves everything that he has made, especially each one of us! And so, even though he sees all of our faults, he strives to cover over them with mercy.
Yet how often do we think that God looks at us like Sarah looked at Larry, like a bag of faults that need to be fixed? He knows that we do! But this is one of the many reasons why he sent his Son to take on our human nature: so that, by the way he treated us as he walked among us, we could know how he has always treated us, which is how he will always treat us. And this great story of Jesus and Zacchaeus the tax collector that we heard in our Gospel reading is just one example.
Zacchaeus was a grave sinner in the eyes of all because he was a tax collector, which meant that he was a collaborator with the Romans who were occupying their land. Tax collectors didn’t get paid from the Romans, so they added fees to the taxes they collected in order to make money. These were completely unregulated, so tax collectors often made themselves wealthy by taking advantage of their kinsman, thus making them despised all the more. Zacchaeus, the Gospel says, was a chief tax collector, which meant that he was particularly despised by the people. Perhaps this is why, when Jesus came to pass through Jericho, Zacchaeus, who was very curious about him and, thus, wanted to see him, wasn’t concerned about how funny it must have looked for him, a grown man, to climb up into a tree so that he could see him: he had given up his concern about public opinion long ago.
Perhaps Jesus noticed him in the tree and asked about him; or perhaps his disciples noticed him and decided to tell Jesus about him. Either way, Jesus came to know who he was and, perhaps, some of his story: especially how he had become wealthy as a tax collector. Jesus had a decision to make, however. Would he focus on Zacchaeus’ faults or would he cover over his faults with mercy? I think that we see, of course, that Jesus did the latter: inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house so that he could express God’s love for him and, thus, urge him to leave off any sinful dealings in his life. Thus, having been treated with mercy, Zacchaeus converts his life and promises to make restitution for his unjust dealings. In other words, the crisis of whether or not Zacchaeus might be lost to sin forever ended when Jesus covered over his faults with mercy.
My brothers and sisters, in so many ways, this is exactly why Pope Frances called for Jubilee Year of Mercy: he wanted us to experience anew how God covers over our faults with mercy. More than that, however, he wanted us to learn anew that our experience of God’s mercy is an experience that is meant to be shared. In other words, the Pope hopes that, through our experience of the Father’s mercy, we will become “merciful like the Father”, as the motto for the Year of Mercy reads.
Friends, this experience of mercy comes to us every time that we celebrate the Holy Eucharist. As we approach this altar today, let us open our hearts to experience God’s mercy anew once again—the experience of God seeing our faults and covering them with love—so that we might go forth from here ready to share that experience with everyone until the day we all are one with our merciful Father in heaven.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 29th, 2016