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28 Oct

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Christ Makes Us Want to Be Better

larry-perry-headshotThis week in the reading from the Gospel according to Luke we hear the wonderful story of Zacchaeus, the rich man who collected taxes (or tolls) on behalf of the Roman government. It always seems that there is something charming and delightful about this story. This man who is described as short in stature climbs a tree in order to see Jesus pass by. The Gospel says that he wanted to see who Jesus was. It appears that the sight of Zacchaeus in a tree made Jesus laugh.  I think that is what Luke is saying when he writes that Jesus “received him with joy” when he came down. Jesus couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of the little man who climbed a tree to see him; Jesus wants to spend some time with Zacchaeus, and he invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. What a delightful meeting! I sometimes imagine that everyone else started laughing with Jesus at the sight of the little man up in a tree.

Clearly, Zacchaeus was not the most loved and admired person in the town, however. The Gospel tells us “they began to grumble” when they heard that Jesus was going to stay at his home.  That doesn’t sound good. The Gospel commentator, John Pilch, tells us that it is almost never incorrect to translate “rich” in the Gospel as “greedy.” We might think of Jesus words: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich (greedy) man to enter the kingdom of God.” Little Zacchaeus seems to have a big reputation — nothing like the “big hat, no cattle” syndrome we may hear of in Texas. Zacchaeus is a little man with a lot of money.

There is something in the presence of Jesus, however, that brings about a big change in Zacchaeus’ heart. Maybe, like the Grinch, with his little heart that begins to grow bigger, Zacchaeus, when walking in the company of such a big and merciful love, can’t help but grow in stature himself. There is something irresistible about being in the presence of goodness and love. He pledges to give away half of all he owns and pay back 400% of anything he has extorted from others. Wow, that’s big — more than anyone would have expected. Zacchaeus is full of surprises.

I am reminded of that wonderful scene in the movie As Good As It Gets. Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson, says to Carol Connelly, played by Helen Hunt, “I’ve got a really great compliment for you, and it’s true.” Carol says, “I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful.” After he says something really awkward, she says, “I don’t quite get how that’s a compliment for me.” And Melvin says, “You make me want to be a better man.” Carol responds, “That’s maybe the best compliment of my life.”

Isn’t that about the best compliment any of us could ever want to hear? I think that’s what being in the presence of Jesus was like for Zacchaeus. It made him a bigger and better man. Isn’t that what we should also feel when we are in the presence of the Body of Christ in this community of St. Francis of Assisi? Jesus makes us all want to be better. Let’s pray for that this week — that we might all become better because we are a part of this community, members of the Body of Christ for each other. May we be fed at the table around which we gather to “see who we are and become what we eat.”

Welcome