November 3, 2013
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 Wis 11:22-12:2
Responsorial Psalm Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
R. (cf. 1) I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
Reading 2 2 Thes 1:11-2:2
Gospel Lk 19:1-10
A man and his family from the back mountains of Tennessee found himself one day in a large city. They were amazed by everything they saw. Having grown up and lived all their lives on a rural farm everything was completely new to them. The Father and son left Ma in the horse buggy and went into this huge skyscraper. As the boy and father entered the building two shinny doors that could move apart and back together again left them spellbound. They stood watching these doors until the son asked his father, “What is this, Father?” The father, never having seen an elevator before, responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don’t know what it is.” for the first time standing outside an elevator. He watched as an old, haggard woman hobbled on, and the doors closed. A few minutes later the doors opened and a young, attractive woman marched smartly off. The father hollered to his youngest son, "Billy, go get mother."
While it is hard to imagine the time when elevators were new-fangled things, what was more important in their history is not that they were once considered magical things, but very scary things. In fact, buildings could be built only so high because people were unwilling to walk up too many flights of stairs and, though the elevator was the solution, folks were unwilling to get into one these, FEARING it might fail and fall to the earth. Then came the final pivotal figure in the development of the modern skyscraper—Elisha Otis—a New Yorker who had patented in 1854 the elevator break, insuring that if an elevator cable broke, the car would be stopped in its fall. Its simple, sure design reassured riders and broke the fear that kept the skyscraper from being built. In the end, it was not technology or design that was the final obstacle to the rising buildings, it was fear.
Fear is powerful—and as the history of the elevator shows, it can keep us from progress. It can keep us from living fully. And, as it turns out, it can keep us from knowing God. It is the message of today’s Gospel and Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus.
Try to enter the world of Zacchaeus: This is a man “short of stature” but also a tax collector (and who likes the tax man?). The gospel told us he was rich—rich by cheating the people through excessive tax collection. No wonder he had much to fear from the crowd. So this short, evil man hears that Jesus is coming to his town of Jericho, and he wants to see him. What’s to keep him? Like the story of the skyscraper—it is primarily fear. Sure, the story tells us, he’s short—how can he see over the crowd? Ingeniously, he climbs a tree. Problem of shortness solved.
But, now fear must be overcome. Why would he be afraid? The crowd would not be friendly to him. Because of his work, he was hated and considered a sinner, not worthy to be in the presence of the holy man Jesus.
What happens? Jesus overcomes his fear with love. Jesus says: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Jesus’ love, his desire to befriend this sinner, gives Zacchaeus the courage to overcome the fear and draw close to Jesus. The gospel continues with significant words. “But Zacchaeus stood there,” in the midst of an angry mob, and spoke to the Lord about his past failings (extorting from people, neglecting the poor) and his desire to make amends. What a humbling yet exalting experience! Jesus’ love gives Zacchaeus the courage to stand tall, face the crowd, and rise to new life. With the love of Christ, fear has no power to hold him down, to limit his life, to keep him from joy.
Fear can be so powerful in our lives, about many common things, as with Zacchaeus ,it could be the biggest obstacle to our coming to know our God and his love. We have been created for nothing less than rising to the fullness of life, to coming to know God and his life-giving love.
If we feel too small, too flawed, too fearful, even rejected, we could feel unworthy. The Good News is this: No matter our failings and our flaws, Jesus comes to us, even today in the Eucharist, and says with love, you are mistaken. You are beloved. You are mine. Just as the love of Jesus sought out and found Zacchaeus, changing a small, fearful man to one who could stand in the midst of the grumbling crowd, admit his failings, and dedicate his life to the Lord, so too God’s love, offered to us her, is powerful enough to lift us from our failings and overcome any fear that keeps us from coming to God.
In the Eucharist, God will say to each of us in a moment, “come down, Joe, Mary, Scott, come down from your isolation and fear, for I, your Lord, must stay in your house, your heart.” Enough settling for the ground floor. Let us ask the Lord to change us with his love. With the confidence, the dignity that comes from being loved by the creator of the universe, the savior of all, nothing need stop us from rising to the very heights of life, love and joy.