Browsing Reflections

Fr. Jo's Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr C, October 30, 2022

A Democrat politician described the publicans of yesterday as today’s Republicans—filthy-rich, out of touch, bigoted, racist, members of the basket of deplorable(s). But in the name-calling, he left nothing for his own colleagues—liars, race-baiters, and baby-killers. Truth be told: the publican of yesteryears has so frequently changed garbs that it’s no longer easy to tell his party. None of those choice words is the exclusive reserve of one political wing. They share them equally.

The publicans of Jesus’ time are like the IRS agents whom everyone dreads: you don’t want to receive their mail or phone call. But the IRS agents of today are feared for quite different reasons than the publicans were hated. If the United States was under Russian rule, the publicans would be IRS agents collecting taxes for Russia. These despicable breeds made filthy money by not only collecting taxes for the Roman occupying power but charging more than approved, so as to enrich themselves. Rome was corrupt anyway, and, insofar as money poured into the treasury, they turned a blind eye. Hence, the publicans were corrupt native officials for a foreign government, marking them out as both thieves and traitors. If last Sunday’s publican was a junior officer, Zacchaeus was not your run-of-the-mill publican; he was the head publican of a rich and important city (Jericho). To add insult to injury, he was very short in stature. This makes him one morally, socially, physically and spiritually challenged.

There are several ways we resemble Zacchaeus. Like him, we are short in the same and several other ways. We may not have a short stature, but we may, like Zacchaeus, be short morally and spiritually, short in temper, short in generosity, short in our love of neighbor, short with our responsibility in family, and many other ways we can be challenged. And as Zacchaeus identified his inadequacies and wouldn’t let them encumber his desire to see Jesus, when we recognize our own limitations, we need not dance a ballet, sing an opera, or march proudly with satanic boldness through the streets of San Francisco. Like Zacchaeus, we should make a conscious effort to climb the sycamore of hope and restoration. Didn’t the Lord say that through a tree we fell, but also through a tree life would come? Climbing that tree might expose us to ridicule—as it certainly did Zacchaeus—but the joy of welcoming the Lord into our home and hearts will far outweigh the embarrassment we would face from the unthinking crowd. For example, some are embarrassed to go to confession lest others see them as sinners. The truth is they see you as a hero, because you’re able to own up your faults, which for many is a challenge.

The tree has been very central in Salvation history. Through the tree, our first parents fell, through another tree the people of God were spared from the poisonous serpent. The sycamore of today is the tree of life for Zacchaeus. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus would climb another tree to buy our salvation. As embarrassing as it might seem, there’s always life in and from the tree.

Zacchaeus meets the Lord and pledges to turn a new leaf. He wanted to see the Lord, but the Lord was, in turn, seeking him out, to save that lost son of Abraham. The first reading from the book of Wisdom assures that God loathes nothing that He has made. Tradition holds that Zacchaeus became the Bishop of Caesarea. His wife is believed to be the holy woman Veronica who met the bruised Jesus on the way to Calvary, wiping his face with a towel; and the Lord gave back to her an imprint of His Holy Face. She despised another crowd crying for blood, and with courage stepped out and boldly sponged with her veil the bruised face of the Man responsible for the new life of her husband and entire household. Both husband and wife (with children) climbed out on a thin limb for the Master (Sheen). Would you be as bold to stand for him?

Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo


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