Tag Archives: repentance

Homily – Sunday Lent IV C – The Joy of the Father’s Mercy

Rembrandt_FilsProdigue PS


Jos 5:9, 10-12
Ps 34         R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
2 Cor 5:17-21
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32


What a beautiful story our Lord shares with us today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ve all heard many times in our lives; I’m sure you’re all very familiar with it, so today, I won’t give a lengthy exegesis of the parable but rather focus just on one aspect: the father’s welcome.

Let’s listen to that passage again: … while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him (Lk 15:20). What a beautiful scene! Instead of scolding his son for having rejected him — by asking for his inheritance early, the son was essentially saying, ‘You’re dead to me’ — and wasted his inheritance, the father embraces him, clothes him with the best robe, and puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. In other words, the father removes the signs of slavery and sin and restores his son to the fullness of the dignity of sonship that he had before.

This, my brothers and sisters, is why we rejoice today on Laetare Sunday. Because God is the compassionate and loving father who embraces us, his prodigal children, when we return to Him repenting of our sins! Like the father in the parable, God waits for our return, watching for us in the distance, and then, when He sees us, He eagerly runs out to meet us. Yes, there is indeed more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:7).

And it’s this eager, joyful compassion that God extends to us that we’re called to remember in this Lenten season as we examine our hearts, repent of our sins, and turn back to the Father. That’s why we do Lenten penances, to express our sorrow: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you (Lk 15:18). And when we do this in humility and with a genuine sorrow for our sins, then the Heavenly Father embraces us just as in the parable, and He renews our sonship, clothing us with the best robe: the garment of salvation, the robe of righteousness (cf. Is 61:10).

But God’s joy in our return doesn’t stop there! He also celebrates our return with a great feast. God is generous in His love and mercy, and this, this is why today we rejoice. Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult, for God welcomes sinners (Is 66:10-11; Lk 15:2).

Through the grace of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we also truly repent of our sins and return home to the Father to share in His joy. Amen.

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Homily – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Vigil Mass:
Acts 3:1-10
Ps 19        R. Their voice goes out through all the earth.
Gal 1:11-20
Jn 21: 15-19
Mass during the Day:
Acts 12:1-11
Ps 34        R. The Lord has set me free from all my fears.
2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18
Mt 16:13-19

pavel

In our times today, many people want to pit St. Peter and St. Paul against each other. St. Peter, they say, was the Apostle who wanted everyone to obey him; he was authoritarian, that’s why he’s the first Pope: everyone had to listen to him and follow his lead. St. Paul, on the other hand, was independent; he was the firebrand Apostle who was never afraid to speak, didn’t play by the rules, and went wherever he felt the Spirit was leading him. In this way, he was the first Protestant, they say, and a truer disciple of Christ…

Nothing could be further from the truth! In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke clearly sates that the disciples of Jesus were of one heart and soul (4:32). Their union with God translated visibly into a union with each other; this was a hallmark of the early Christian community! Sts. Peter and Paul were no different: both dedicated their lives to preaching Christ and bringing people to repentance and union with God; both laid down their lives for Jesus in the Roman persecutions of Nero (64-68 AD). Both believed with one heart, preached with one heart and died with one heart. It’s for these and other reasons that the Church has held, nearly from the beginning (ca. 258 AD), a solemn feast to celebrate these two Apostles together.

When Jesus first called Peter to become a disciple, it was from the shore, as Peter and his brother Andrew were fishing. Jesus said to them, follow me, and they did (Mt 4:18-20). When Jesus was walking on water, he called out to Peter and said, come (Mt 14:29). Peter himself later even said, Look, we have left everything and followed you (Mt 19:27).

But when Jesus was arrested, and the other Apostles left Jesus, Peter, who had claimed he would follow Jesus unto death (Mt 26:33, 35), followed Him only at a distance (Mt 26:58) and even went on to deny Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-74).

After the Resurrection, Jesus again appeared to Peter from the shore. Three times He asked, Peter do you love me? (Jn 21:15-19). Having said yes, Jesus, once again called him, Follow me (Jn 21:19). And this time Peter did, even unto death. Having experienced the depths of Jesus’ love — Jesus never gave up on Peter, never rejected him, never condemned him —, Peter finally gave himself over to God’s love: Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (Jn 21:17). And because of this abandonment to God’s love, the Holy Spirit was able to transform Peter from a man of fear and denial into one of courage and fidelity. We see this very clearly on that first Pentecost, as Peter preached the first homily and baptised 3000 people.

For his part, St. Paul started out as what he thought was a perfect Jew (Phil 3:4b-6). He was zealous for God and the Law, and strove with all his power to perfectly obey the will of God. That’s why he was able to approve of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), and dedicate himself to stopping the Christians (Acts 8: 1, 3; 9:1-2).

But then Paul heard God’s voice: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). The man who once arrested Christians and would have happily killed them for God, was now awakened to God’s true identity. Paul’s zeal for the Law had blinded him to God’s identity, but God, in His loving mercy, reached out to him and turn his zeal for the Law into a zealous love for God and people. Jesus, in His mercy, called Paul to repent and be an instrument of salvation (Acts 9:15). St. Paul spent the rest of his life helping others to love and follow Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, our weaknesses and sins only become obstacles to following Jesus when we keep them away from Him. When we accept Jesus’ love and mercy, and give ourselves over to Him, allowing His love to transform us, our sins become shadows of the past and our weaknesses, sources of strength. Jesus was able to turn an impetuous, quick-tempered apostate and a prideful accomplice to murder into two of the greatest Saints of the Church. He turned their stubbornness and zeal into instruments of salvation for the world, and their bodies into sacrificial offerings to God. If He can do that with Peter and Paul, what will He accomplish with us if we follow Him?

As we remember these two giants of faith — upon whose faith we stand today as Roman Catholics —, may we turn to them for their example and invoke their intercessions, as we strive to give our hearts over to Jesus, so that with them, we too, might be of one heart and soul with Christ and with all believers. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Lent V A


Ez 37:12-14
Ps 130:1-8b    R.  With the Lord there is steadfast love and great power to redeem.
Rom 8:8-11
Jn 11:1-45

Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent; Easter is now just days away.  As we enter into these final days of Lent, the Liturgy intensifies: you may have noticed over the past two weeks that the Gospel is getting longer, and we’re focussing more and more the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ; the Paschal Mystery, by which we’ve been given new life and a guarantee of the eternal life to come.  The story of Lazarus points us toward this great and glorious gift.

The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310-1311. Tempera and gold on panel

The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, ca. 1310-1311. Tempera and gold on panel

The text tells us very clearly that Jesus purposefully delayed His visit to Lazarus and his sisters, knowing full well that he would die, but so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (Jn 11:4).  You see, as John unfolds his Gospel, the miracles of Jesus become more and more powerful, more and more ‘miraculous’, each pointing to the greatness and power of Jesus; each pointing to His closeness to the Father; each pointing to His divinity, to His power over creation, and today, even over life and death.  That’s why this is the last of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of John, because the miracles have reached their theological climax: Jesus the Christ is the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in [Him], even though they die, will live (Jn 11:25).  He is Lord of the living and of the dead (cf. Rom 14:9).

Furthermore, the resurrection of Lazarus — which John makes a point of clearly saying it was real: Lazarus was dead four days and already decomposing (Jn 11:39) —, the resurrection of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of Christ’s own Resurrection from the dead for His faith and obedience to the Father.  For his friendship and closeness to Christ, Lazarus is given the gift of new life, but not in the same way Jesus will after His own Death on the Cross; Lazarus would still die once more.  And so in this miracle we see a symbol of the baptismal gift of new life; that life rooted in faith, rooted in Christ, and given by the Holy Spirit.  In other words, it’s the life of the Spirit of which Ezekiel spoke in the first reading: I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live (Ez 37:14).

The gift of new life given to us at Baptism is a direct result of the gift of the Spirit that dwells in us through this Sacrament.  Cleansed by water and anointed with the Spirit, we’re re-created into the image and likeness of Christ and become, as He is, temples of the Holy Spirit.  And from the moment of our Baptism we’re called to live according to this Spirit, because as St. Paul says, Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:8).

Now it’s important to understand what Paul is saying here.  He’s not saying that the body is bad or evil, as some have thought.  Rather, Paul uses the term flesh to mean all that’s not of God; in our contemporary words, he means the ‘spirit of the world’ that teaches us selfishness and materialism.  That’s what Paul means by the flesh.

But, as he continues, you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit (Rom 8:9).  Because of Baptism, we’ve been freed from the bondage of the flesh, freed from the bondage of the world, so that we might live according to the Spirit.  John symbolises this in his Gospel by Lazarus rising from the dead all wrapped-up in strips of cloth.  And just like He did for Lazarus, at Baptism, Jesus cries out for each of us, Unbind him, and let him go (Jn 11:44).  Baptism frees us from the bonds of the flesh, which keep us from God.

But if we’re to live according to the Spirit, we have to allow the Spirit to lead us, to heal us, to transform us.  Though Baptism gives us the gift of the Spirit — the gift of new life —, we still need to abandon ourselves to this Holy Spirit and let Him work in us.  In this way, we can even live a taste of eternal life here on earth, a life rooted in God’s love and grace; a life lived in the hope of the glory and fullness of life that awaits us in Heaven, where the flesh will have been vanquished, fully and forever, and we live only of the Spirit.

And so the Church gives us this Gospel passage in these last days of Lent to challenge us, to challenge us on where we stand: Are we living according to the Spirit we’ve received in Baptism (and Confirmation)?  Or are we still living according to the flesh?

Lent is a time for conversion, conversion of heart, and the readings today renew this invitation to turn our hearts back to God, allowing His love and His grace to heal us, to free us, and to give us life.  As we enter into these final days, may we open our hearts more and more to God’s love, embracing the grace of our Baptism, and allowing the Holy Spirit to truly dwell in us, leading us into Life.  Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Lent III A


Ex 17:3-7
Ps 95   R/O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts!
Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
Jn 4:5-42

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is a fascinating encounter; it’s rich in theology and deep in meaning. In fact, we could easily spend hours talking about this story, line by line, verse by verse, drinking the Truth and Life that gushes forth from it. But, even though it is Lent, I’m going to spare you that penance today and focus on only one dimension of the text.

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Pietro Negri (1679)

Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Pietro Negri (1679)

Notice that when Jesus confronts the woman at the well with her sins, He does just that: He confronts her. There’s no judgement on His part, there’s no condemnation; Jesus merely calls her attention to her sins (and the fact that He knows them), and He challenges her to repentance and conversion: If you knew the gift of God…(Jn 4:10) And if we really did know the gift of God, how could we ever choose to sin?

My brothers and sister, Jesus continues to challenge us to conversion today, and He does this explicitly through His Church. When the Church speaks out on issues of morality — abortion, euthanasia, Marriage, homosexual activity, contraception, premarital sex, poverty, gambling, and so on —, she does so not out of condemnation, but out of her prophetic duty to proclaim the Word of God and to call people to conversion. The sense of guilt someone might feel when hearing the Church’s message of truth doesn’t come from a ‘condemnation by the Church’; imitating her Lord, she merely calls attention to sin and challenges the sinner to repent.

Guilt? Well, guilt comes from within! We experience guilt when we’re judged, not by others, but by our own conscience. And our conscience is capable of judging us like this because we’re created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27), and His law is written on our hearts: I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts, prophesied Jeremiah (Jer 31:33). This is confirmed by St. Paul when he writes about the pagans in his letter to the Romans: …what the Law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them (Rom 2:15).

As any criminal psychologist will tell you, it’s not the court that makes a criminal feel remorse or guilt. Feelings of guilt and remorse must come from within a person; they can’t be imposed from without. It’s the same with sin. When we commit sin, it’s our conscience and our heart that condemn us. And when the final judgement comes, God won’t so much condemn us as ratify the judgement our conscience has made against us. If we’ve failed to listen to our conscience, if we’ve failed to properly educate and strengthen it, then we’ll be liable to the judgement of our conscience, which will speak out against us for not having listened, for not having obeyed, for not having formed it according to the truth. In short, if we’re condemned, it’ll be because we condemned ourselves.

But as the Psalm today says: O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts!  My brothers and sisters, may we not harden our hearts when God calls attention to our sins; may we not harden our hearts when the Church calls attention to our sins; may we not harden our hearts when our conscience calls attention to our sins. Instead, may we turn back to God, asking Him for forgiveness, for healing, for the grace of repentance and conversion.

You see, this is the beauty of our God, that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live (Ez 33:11). God wants us to turn back to Him: in His love for us, He is merciful and wants to save us, but we must repent of our sins and change our ways for conversion to take root. This is the invitation Jesus makes to the Samaritan woman in our Gospel today. And notice how when He named her sins, Jesus didn’t do it to condemn her, but to call her to repentance, …and that’s precisely what she did! Confronted with her sins, laid bare in front of her by this stranger, she chose to seek forgiveness. That’s because before talking to her about her sins, Jesus loved her; and made her thirsty for His love (cf. Jn 4:10-15). Filled with the joy and excitement of having encountered Christ and His forgiveness, she immediately begins to evangelise, sharing this message of hope, this Good News about the love and mercy of God: Come and see…! (Jn 4:29)

Confronted with her sins, the Samaritan woman, instead of getting angry and trying to silence the voice calling her to repentance, chose to listen and drink of the water being offered her, so as to benefit from the eternal life that gushes forth from it. She listened to the voice of God calling her back, and because of that, she came to [know] the Gift of God, and grew in faith and in holiness.

My brothers and sisters, Jesus’ mission is to call sinners back to the Father, and this is made most visible on the Cross, as St. Paul says in the second reading: God proves his love for us that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Again, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live (Ez 33:11). God and the Church call attention to our sins not to condemn us, but to educate us so that we might repent, turn back to God, and live.

And so, when the Church’s teachings confront us with our own sins or errors and we feel guilty, it’s important for us to remember that the Church isn’t condemning us, and that she isn’t the source of our guilt. Rather, we need to follow the example of the woman at the well, and recognise God’s call to conversion and accept the life-giving water that He’s offering. O that today [we] would listen to the voice of the Lord. [Let us] not harden [our] hearts (Ps 95:7c-8a), but rather embrace God’s mercy and forgiveness, confessing our sins and turning back to Him with all our hearts, because only in Christ can we ever be at peace with God (cf. Rom 5:1); only in Christ ca we ever be at peace with ourselves. Amen.

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Homily – Ash Wednesday


Joel 2:12-18
Ps 51   R/. Have mercy, O Lord, for we have sinned. 
2 Cor 5:20-6:2
Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

 

My brothers and sisters, the Christian life is all about imitating Christ, and Lent is about taking the time to see where we’re at in that journey of becoming like Christ.

Ash-WednesdayWe begin Lent today with a spirit of penance and repentance because we recognise that we don’t always live like Christ; because we recognise that sometimes we don’t even try to imitate Him; and because we recognise that at times we even choose to turn away from Him, preferring instead the glamour of sin.

This is the reality of our human weakness: we are attacked everyday by various temptations — some of which we even create ourselves —, and too often we simply give-in to them without a fight. And so, as we embark on this annual journey of Lent, this journey of conversion, we do so by acknowledging our sinfulness, by acknowledging our love for God, and by acknowledging our need for His grace to persevere in faithful discipleship and to grow in holiness.

Today, we put on ashes as a sign of this repentance, and as a sign of our desire for conversion. Taken from the ancient Jewish custom, the placing of ashes on our heads is an act of publically acknowledging our sinfulness, and of humbling ourselves in the sight of God, remembering that we are little more than ashes, for from dust we were created and to dust we shall return (cf. Gen 3:19).

It’s also a means of calling upon God’s goodness. If we look at all the times in the Old Testament when people put on sackcloth and ashes as a sign of repentance and conversion, it’s almost always accompanied by prayers calling for God’s mercy.[1]  And so, the imposition of ashes also signifies turning our hearts back to God and asking for His mercy.

These two dimensions — humble repentance and prayer for mercy — are at the heart of the entire Lenten season, and so we see in this symbolic act of ashes the meaning of this holy Season: repentance and conversion; and it opens us up to the triple practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, which are characteristic of Lent.

Prayer deepens our relationship with God, helps us to recognise our sinfulness and our need for Him, and strengthens us to better live the Christian life.

Fasting helps us to make room for God by shedding the things we don’t really need, the things that tend to distract us from God, and it helps us to discipline our bodies and desires so that we’re better able to resist temptation. By saying ‘no’ to good things we learn to better say ‘no’ to evil. Fasting also helps us to identify with the poor who often go hungry on a daily basis.

Almsgiving helps us to be detached from our material possessions so as to share the gifts we’ve received with those in need.

Together, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are intended to bring us closer to God and to make us stronger in faith and in love. As such, then, they’re more than just ‘something we do during Lent;’ they’re really at the very heart of the Christian life. The Church simply highlights these three weapons during Lent in the hope that our renewed efforts in these areas will continue beyond the 40 days, bearing fruit throughout the whole year, indeed throughout our whole life.

When training for an upcoming season, athletes prepare themselves by renewing their commitment to fitness and by increasing their efforts to train their bodies for the stamina and strength required for their sport.

Lent is like a spiritual ‘spring training’: it’s a time we take to renew our commitment to the spiritual life and to increase our efforts to be holy through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But just like the athlete who needs to keep a healthy lifestyle throughout the year so as to be ready for training and competition, so, too, do we need to sustain throughout the year the progress we make during Lent, each year building upon the last.

But the penance we do during Lent, and the discipline of discipleship we build through it, isn’t for its own sake; it’s not meant to make us into sad Christians, depressed by our sins and weighed down by our penance. The Christian life isn’t some endless cycle of Lent, of ‘training for competition’, of just fighting temptation! Though that’s certainly a part of it, the Christian life goes far beyond that, because it always looks beyond the fight against evil to Christ’s victory on the Cross.

And so, just as Lent already points us beyond penance toward the joy of Easter, the joy of the Resurrection, so, too, does the Christian life point beyond the struggle against sin toward eternal life in the Kingdom. You see, the Christian life is intended to prepare us for Heaven, to help us become holy so that we might be ready to share in the blessed joy of eternal union with God. Lent is merely the warm-up exercise that helps us to better and more properly live the life of holiness to which we’ve been called by virtue of our Baptism.

The placing of ashes on our heads today is an external sign of our commitment to this renewal of faith, a physical sign on our bodies that represents the internal, spiritual reality that’s taking place in our souls. And so, with these ashes, we humbly turn our hearts back to God and ask Him to fill us with His grace, to strengthen us against temptation, to make us holy. Amen.

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Lenten Message

Lent is a time the Church sets aside each year for us to evaluate the state of our life, of our relationship with Christ, and the direction in which we’re going. It’s a time during which we’re called to go out into the desert to be with God, as did the people of Israel with Moses (the book of Exodus), a time during which we’re called to follow Jesus into the solitude of the desert in order to do battle against temptation (Lk 4:1-12; Mt 4:1-11).

christ tempted by satan

Christ being tempted. (Bl. Fra Angelico?)

To help us in this mission of spiritual warfare, the Church gives us three particular weapons: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The effectiveness of these ancient practices is rooted in their very nature as being directed toward someone other than ‘me’.

Prayer binds us to God. It helps us recognise our sins and our need for God; it deepens our relationship with Jesus, and strengthens us to better live like Him. It’s the foundation of the other two weapons.

Fasting helps us to make room for God by letting go of the things we don’t really need, things that distract us from God. It teaches us discipline and helps us to control our bodies and desires so that we can better resist temptation. It teaches us to make sacrifices for the sake of love, and helps us to identify with the poor who are often hungry on a daily basis.

Almsgiving helps us to let go of our material possessions so that we might provide for the needs of others. In Lent, the idea is that the money we save by fasting is then given to feed the poor. It also keeps us from making fasting a miserly and selfish act.

These are the basic spiritual tools of the Christian life; we simply highlight them during Lent to help us better practice them throughout the year. Together, they bring us closer to God and increase our love for Him and neighbour. Done intentionally with joy and authenticity, they strengthen our faith. They also point us to a proper understanding of ‘penance’.

As I wrote in Part XVII of my series on Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, penance isn’t a form of punishment; rather it’s “an act of love offered to increase our desire to avoid sin, to strengthen repentance, and to make reparation for sins”. Penance is meant to bring us closer to God by increasing our capacity to love, and refocusing our attention and efforts on following God.

In this way, then, Lent also reminds us of our Baptism, the starting point of our Journey toward God, and points us toward the Resurrection of Christ, the guarantee of our own resurrection to come.

And so, this time of prayer and penance which is Lent, is also a time of preparation and joyful expectation: preparation for the Easter mysteries celebrated in the Sacred Paschal Triduum; expectation of the glory that awaits us in Christ Jesus.

May we, then, embrace this time of renewal: with all of God’s people, may we enter into the desert of Lent to encounter God and His superabundant love for us, and recommit ourselves to following His way. A blessed and holy Lent to each of you!

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Homily – Sunday OT 31 C


Ws 11:22-12:2
Ps 145       R/.  I will bless your name for ever, my King and my God.
2 Thess 1:11-2:2
Lk 19:1-10

When I was a young boy, we had a series of little comic books about the Bible — now you can get them in one volume, called the Action Bible.  My brothers and I would read these little books all the time.  It’s actually the way I learned all my Bible stories, and I still remember them today because of that.  But there was always one New Testament passage that got my attention over and over again: Man in a Tree.

Me at the beginning of my climbing phase (18 mos.)

Me at the beginning of my climbing phase (18 mos.)

You see, I was a small short kid, so I completely identified with Zacchaeus not being able to see Jesus over the crowd.  I also loved to climb things: trees, sheds, bookcases, scaffolding, houses…  So this story about a short man in a tree captivated me, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Zacchaeus.

As I grew up, other aspects of this passage came to life for me.  I realised that Jesus called Zacchaeus by name the first time He spoke to him.  It’s as if Jesus already knew him.  Then, the math didn’t make any sense to me: half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I’ve defrauded anyone … I will pay back four times as much (v. 8).  Either he was a good investor or a bad counter, because giving back four times what he took with only half of his money left…?  It just didn’t add up for me.

But as I began to study Scripture in the seminary, this passage, and many others like it, began to open up to a deeper content.  Now, it’s not that there was anything hidden in the story; it’s all completely visible, I just didn’t know to see it.

You see — and I’ve said this several times already since I’ve been here —, Bible passages must always be read within their context: the immediate context of the chapter and the specific book, but also in their wider context of the whole Bible.  And for Zacchaeus’ story, this give us so much!

By this time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on His final journey to Jerusalem where He will be crucified.  He knows this very clearly, because He’s already talked to His disciples about it three times (Lk 9:22; 9:44; 18:31-33).  And the closer He gets to Jerusalem, the stronger His language becomes.

In the paragraph before today’s story, Jesus arrived at Jericho (Zacchaeus’ town) and He healed a blind man who had been crying out: Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me! (Lk 18:38). You probably remember the story.  Now a crowd had already been following Jesus, but now with the healing, you can imagine the crowd got bigger.  And this is where we meet Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus may already have heard about Jesus before, but Luke gives us the impression that he certainly heard about the healing: He was trying to see who Jesus was (v. 3).  Zacchaeus’ interest was piqued by what he had heard about Jesus, and he wanted to know who this man was, who could heal the blind.  And clearly his curiosity was quite strong; it’s not everyday that an adult would run ahead and climb a tree (cf. v. 4) to see who’s passing by.

Now that’s just Zacchaeus’ actions.  Jesus’ actions are all the more powerful!  Notice how Jesus calls him by name: Zacchaeus, hurry and come down (v. 5).  Again, Jesus looked at him with the heart of God, and loved him.  That’s why he then proceeded, not to condemn him for being a sinner, a tax-collector, but rather welcomed him and invited Himself over: I must stay at your house today (v. 5). Zacchaeus met Jesus, and Jesus welcomed him; Jesus accepted Zacchaeus and loved him despite his sins.  Think on that for a minute!  Whereas the crowd grumbled and rejected Zacchaeus, Jesus accepted and loved him despite his sins.

No wonder Zacchaeus got so excited and generous in his response!  See what love does!  See what God’s grace does to the sinner!  That’s why Jesus said he came to seek out and to save the lost (Lk 19:10).  Love brings to conversion when it’s encountered.  Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus, whom He already loved; and Zacchaeus, through that loving welcome, encountered the generous love of God, and immediately repented of his sins and changed his life.  That’s why Jesus was able to say: Today, salvation has come to this house (v. 9). Encountering Jesus Christ brings with it conversion; repentance brings with it salvation.  This is the beautiful gift that our Lord came to bring us!  This is the Good News!

Encounter with Christ is why we have the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist; it’s why we have so much Scripture at Mass; it’s why we really do need to daily spend time in prayer.  Repentance is why we acknowledging our sins by beginning each Mass with the Penitential Act; it’s why we have Confession.  And we gather for the Eucharist as a community so that we may also encounter Jesus in and through each other.  All of this works for our salvation.

But we also need to become ‘encounters’ for others.  How many people do you think Zacchaeus told about his meeting with Jesus?  How many people do you think he told about having Him over as a houseguest?  We too need to talk about our faith, but not so much about the doctrines of our faith.  As Pope Francis recently said, doctrine doesn’t make sense without knowing Christ (“Interview with Pope Francis”, La Repubblica, 9 October 2013).  Rather, we need to talk about the experiences we’ve had of Christ, who continues to welcome us and work in us.  This is our mission as disciples: to share the encounter we’ve had of Jesus with everyone around us.

But to do this, we must imitate Jesus: we are not to condemn the sinner, but to welcome and love him.  Now that doesn’t mean we put up with sin; but we do put up with people, people who are loved by God, and so should be loved by us also.  Who knows what that Love will do?  Who knows what that encounter with Jesus will do in their hearts?  Maybe, like Zacchaeus, they too will repent and respond with a generous love for God.  Amen.

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