This is the thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time. The underlying theme of today’s readings is the benevolent and forgiving Mercy of God for sinners and the response of repentance and conversion expected from us. We sin, yet God does not treat us as outcastes; His mercy calls us to a sincere repentance, a change of heart like the tax-collector Zacchaeus experienced.
The first reading, taken from the Book of Wisdom, reminds us that God’s Almighty Power includes the strength to be merciful. That is why God, Who created the universe mercifully, waits for sinners to repent and continues to love us, even when we do not love Him in return. The reading beautifully explains the goodness of God, “You overlook people’s sins so that they may repent.” Thus, the reading focuses on the love God has for all He has created, the love that overlooks sin so that we all have time for repentance and may abandon our wickedness and turn back to the Lord with our whole heart.
In the second reading, St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to persevere in their Christian Faith, giving glory to God, without idly waiting for the “Second Coming” of Christ in their lifetime. Some people in the community had reacted with terror, while had others quit work, and were making nuisances of themselves as they awaited the full effect of the Lord’s coming. This letter was intended to correct certain misunderstandings which had arisen within the community. The reading explains that the Day of the Lord, i.e., the second coming of Jesus, had already occurred. The letter exhorts the Thessalonians, and us, to glorify the Name of Jesus and to conduct ourselves in such a way as to become worthy of God’s call by “relying on the power of God, Who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own.” He advises them to continue to live a good Christian life every day, allowing God to work in their lives so that they might be worthy of their vocation as Christians.
The Gospel presents the story of the instantaneous conversion of the tax-collector Zacchaeus. God’s grace led him to a moment of conversion. The account describes how Jesus recognized Zacchaeus for exactly what he was, a lost sinner in need of a Savior, and how God’s grace worked in Zacchaeus to lead him from idle curiosity to repentance, conversion and restitution. The episode emphasizes the fact that such a conversion can only result from a person’s fully receiving the love, acceptance and grace of a merciful Lord.
The story ends with a beautiful declaration, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Zacchaeus, who had previously been an outcast, was addressed by Jesus as a “son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus was not saved in isolation. His salvation would affect the entire community, because he would provide support for the poor and restitution to those he had defrauded. A community would be transformed by the presence of a tax-collector whom people could trust. Zacchaeus reminds us that Jesus continues to call the strangest people from the strangest places. With more than seventy-five percent of Americans suffering from a conviction of low self-worth, Zacchaeus serves as a good example of how to resist and survive the critical comments of others and to know that we too are sons and daughters of Abraham.
Zacchaeus was changed from being a greedy person to being a generous one; he went from selfishness to selflessness. There was a desire deep within his heart to repent, and Jesus knew it. Jesus also wants us to move from our small and feeble Faith to a greater and more powerful Faith, just as Zacchaeus did. God wants us to be financially and spiritually generous. When we feel the warmth of God’s presence within us, that warmth will, in itself, melt our coldness and selfishness and lead us to repentance and generosity. Jesus says to each one of us, “For today may I stay at your house?” How would you respond to His invitation? Would you be ready to welcome Jesus into your home, the home of your heart? Our Lord is a God of Love, Grace and Mercy. He does not wish to see anyone lost, but rather desires sinners to repent and experience the fullness of life, the life of joy and freedom that only He can provide. Open your heart to welcome Jesus, and ask Him to enter your home and family. Whatever may be our situation, like Zacchaeus, if we allow Jesus to enter our lives, our lives will change.