Sunday, November 04, 2007

On Saturday evening, November 3, Peter and Rosalee were altar servers for Mass at the historic Old Saint Thomas Church in Chester Springs, Chester County. The parish, St Thomas the Apostle, is the first in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Usually the parish celebrates Mass in their new modern church building but on this evening we celebrated in the 1852 church building. Since Jesuits first said Mass in the area in the 1720's, they invited a Jesuit, me, to celebrate in the historic church.

Luke 19: 1-10 Zacchaeus
Life challenges all of us in some way: perhaps physically or emotionally or intellectually. Our gospel story is about Zacchaeus who is vertically-challenged. He climbs a tree and in this way attracts the attention of Jesus. You have heard it said that the last shall be first and the first last. The Zacchaeus story suggests this phrase: The short shall be tall and the tall shall be short. Or, perhaps as this story develops, a more fitting characterization is this: though the poor are blessed by God and promised a place in God’s kingdom, the rich can also have a place in God’s kingdom.

Luke’s gospel is generally hard on the rich. There is the rich young man who wants to inherit eternal life but walks away when Jesus invites him to sell what he has and give to the poor and come follow me. There is Dives who ignores the poor Lazarus and winds up in Hell. There is the expression: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Zacchaeus distinguishes himself from the rich, however, by his generosity. Even though he is one of the hated class in his community, a tax collector for the Romans, Zacchaeus concerns himself more about what we now call social capital, healthy resources of all kinds that people share in community, than about preserving his own capital.

Jesus recognizes his initiative and calls up to him: “Zacchaeus come down quickly, for today I must stay in your home.” Jesus is direct and forward with him; words that anyone of us long to hear. I like how it happens in an instant.

Not only is Jesus quick to recognize Zacchaeus’s initiative, he also engages in a life-saving situation for the man. Often people in Luke’s gospel are saved by their faith or by their gratitude toward Jesus. Zacchaeus relationship to Jesus seems much more ordinary. Jesus is his guest but Zacchaeus makes no particular expression of faith in Jesus, no special thanks, no special honor. He simply announces his own ethical behavior: “Half my possessions I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” Jesus applauds him for his generous spirit and announces that salvation has come to this house.

There is the curious story of a real estate speculator I once knew. I was part of a community group that challenged him over his practices, practices that became illegal when people saw their ruinous results. Zacchaeus makes me think of him now because he also came around and realized the damage he had done. His money now sits in a $100,000,000 foundation benefiting the very communities that he defrauded. I suppose that God gave him a place in the kingdom.

Jesus confirms salvation even for a lost tax collector. So, too, Jesus is always reaching out to the lost. And when the lost are found, Jesus asks us to rejoice with his Father God who wishes to lead all souls to heaven.

So even if our initiatives with God are not answered the way we would like, even if our talents or possessions weigh heavy on us, let us take the time today to join in the party at the house of Zacchaeus for salvation has come to it.