Homily for the 31st Sunday in ordinary time.
Updated: Nov 18
Thirty First Sunday
Wisdom 11:22-12; 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-2; Luke 19:1-10
Saint John Baptist de le Salle/Saint Stephen October 30, 2022
My father had many friends and most of them were people no one else wanted around. These friends were men who had returned from World War I and were so disfigured, in one way or another, that they lived apart from the rest of us "normal people." Often, on weekends, especially on Saturday, my father would take me with him to visit with some of these men, most of them living in the woods outside of our town. There was a man, John Upton was his name, who lived in a little shack out in the woods. He cut trees for firewood, and some people would come and buy it from him. Actually, many people came, and for two reasons, the wood was cheap, and you could take advantage of John because he seemed to never be there. Just a little box outside his door where people would put money and then take the wood. But when my father came to visit John would always appear and he and my father would talk for a very long time while I just sat a stared.
I stared at John because part of his face was missing, having been blown off by a mine when he was just nineteen years old. Now as a man in his early fifties he lived alone in the woods because people could not look at him. One day when my father was talking to his brother Joe, encouraging him to buy wood from John Upton, Joe said, "Not ever, not ever. If I ever have to see him again, I'll just die. I can't bear to look at him, I can't bear it." "Not ever. Not ever," are words that are showing us who we are. Each of us has declared parts of the life God has given us to be altogether too much. We say, in our own ways, about some people, some situations and some tasks, "If I have
to, I'll just die. I can't bear it, I can't take it," Is that not true of our own life a well? This is what sin really is: Our refusal to accept real life, not the life our imaginations fashion for us. We are not wholly to blame. Like my uncle Joe, we did not raise ourselves. We neither chose nor fashioned the wounded and scary worlds in which we live. And this is the meaning of the sin our Catholic Church calls "original." We ourselves are wounded, before we ever set out to reject or to wound.
And then there is the Gospel. Zacchaeus is an exceptionally short man and a tax-collector. His height makes him less than desirable to look at, and the fact he is a tax-collector betrays his sinful ways. But it is not as though Zacchaeus has not fended for himself. He has become a rich man and has evened his relationship with others. But still, he remains an outcast, someone about whom others say, looking at him from a distance, "Not ever. Not ever. If I must, I'll just die. I can't bear it. I can't bear it." If Jesus lives in us, if we live in Jesus, we can open ourselves to those parts of life that we have shunned, or at least we can pray for the grace to understand this truth: "O God, you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things." If, in the face of the scarred and the scary, we begin by praying for the grace to open ourselves, then another will follow. We will see in our own lives that: "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to save what was lost." However, frightened and frustrated, we say, "not ever, not ever." But Jesus says, "today salvation has come!"