Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thirty-third Tuesday in Ordinary Time: Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This morning I once again had the privilege of filling for one of our priests who was picking up relatives in town for Thanksgiving. This homily bears more than a passing resemblance to my last Sunday homily. Nonetheless, it is different enough not to be an exercise in pointless repetition.

Readings: Rev 3,1-6. 14-22; Ps 15,2-5; Lk 19:1-10

Our first reading today is a foreshadowing of what we will hear more about during the season of Advent, which we are rapidly approaching. In anticipation, we should heed John the Revelator when he says, “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 3,6). To heed these words means to ask, What is the Spirit saying to the Church of Utah, to our parish, to us gathered here this morning? I do not think what the Spirit tells us is all that different from what the Spirit said through St. John, while in exile on the isle of Patmos, to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea.

The Spirit hears the church of Laodicea say, not so much in word, but in deed, "‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev 3,17). We live in the most materially wealthy society that has ever existed in the history of world. The concerns we have about our material well-being pale when compared to the concerns of most people with whom we share the earth. Especially in a week during which we celebrate our rich abundance by feasting, the Spirit calls us to realize that it is not in spite of, but precisely due to our wealth, that we are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" when we, who are rich and affluent, who have need of nothing material, ignore those who lack even the basic necessities of life. By ignoring the poor and suffering, we become spiritually impoverished and not in the way Jesus calls blessed, but in the wretched, poor, and pitiable way described in Revelation.

Nonetheless, despite our wretchedness, Jesus still stands at the door and knocks. When we answer the door, who do we see? Do we see the haloed and glowing figure of what can best be described as Jesus of Norway? No, when we answer the door at which Jesus Christ knocks, we see him in his distressing disguise as a hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, and imprisoned human being. It is in his distressing disguise that our Lord desires to enter our house and dine with us. Only if we answer the door and invite in Jesus the beggar, the cast-off, the prisoner we will be the victors who sit with him on his throne.

In the narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus makes only trip to Jerusalem. Therefore, he passes through Jericho only once. Jericho sits about 15 miles to the East of Jerusalem, along the West Bank of the Jordan River. Jesus is one of a stream of Jewish pilgrims to pass through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem to observe Passover in the holy city. Of course, in the narrative shared by the three synoptic gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke), this trip ends in our Lord's passion, death, and, resurrection. It was customary for the people of Jericho to line the streets of the town to wish the pilgrims well on their way to Jerusalem. Furthermore, rabbis walked with what, in our day is called an entourage, or, a group of disciples. It was rabbinical practice for such teachers to teach as they walked. So, as a rabbi, whose fame had spread beyond his native Galilee, due his healings and casting out demons, not to mention his direct challenge to the religious authorities, word of Jesus approaching the town would have caused a great deal of excitement. The disciples surrounding Jesus would have appeared a bit strange because they were both men and, scandalously, women!

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho, Luke tells us, "was seeking to see who Jesus was." So, as Jesus entered Jericho, because he was short, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a glimpse of this Galilean miracle worker, perhaps hoping to witness the working of some spectacular miracle, such as an instant cure. Of course, in St. Mark’s parallel account of our Lord’s passage through Jericho, we read of the cure of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. But the miracle, in this instance, was nothing so dramatic. It consisted in nothing less than the restoration of a notorious sinner, which begins with Jesus calling Zacchaeus, by name, down from the sycamore tree in order to stay at his house.

What was miraculous about this action of Jesus? Well, as the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been considered not only a traitor, a Roman collaborator, by his fellow Jews, but ritually unclean. Nonetheless, Jesus chooses to stay at his house. In our first reading, our Lord reveals through John that "Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise." It is certainly through Zacchaeus that the Lord reproves and chastises the faithful of Israel. Yet Jesus says of Zacchaeus, whose encounter with Lord caused him to repent and make amends for his extortions and dishonesty as a tax collector, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham." He tells Jesus that he is going to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay "four times over" what he has extorted. This is how Zacchaeus receives our Lord with joy, and by acting justly. It is in bringing about this change in the chief tax collector that the Son of Man seeks and saves what was lost.

The point of this story, just like the connection between today's readings, is obvious- Jesus calls us by name; he stands at the door and knocks. Do we, like Zacchaeus, receive him with joy by allowing our encounter with him to give our lives a new horizon and a decisive direction? The horizon towards which we walk is the same as that walked by Jesus, toward Jerusalem. In our case it is toward the new and everlasting Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, ushered in by the advent of Christ the King, whose kingdom consists of those who heed his call and follow him, becoming his disciples. May we, like Zacchaeus and those "few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments" and who walk with Jesus "dressed in white," walk with Jesus toward God's kingdom, seeking usher in God's reign. Our path, like that of our Master, is a via delarosa. Let us bear our sufferings without becoming lukewarm. Moreover, let us act in solidarity with those who truly suffer want, being hot and not cold. In order to do this, again, using Zacchaeus as our example, we must rigorously examine our consciences in order open ourselves to the transforming power of God's kingdom, a kingdom that is within us.









On this memorial of the Presentation of Mary, the Mother of God, let us recognize what Blessed Teresa of Calcutta used to say when questioned by non-Catholics about the importance of the Blessed Virgin, "No Mary, No Jesus." Taking a cue from a man who, like Zacchaeus, is notorious, we can also say Know Mary, know Jesus.

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