HOMILY FOR THE 31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Readings: Wis. 11:22-12:2/ 2Thess. 1:11-2:2
Psalm: 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
Gospel: Lk. 19:1-10
This past weekend, I went on a Retreat to St. Meinrad Monastery in Indiana. It was a wonderful experience to get out of my comfort zone and listen for the Voice of God in the time that I spent there with the stillness of the place and the commitment of the Benedictine Monks who live there and work there and pray there all the betterment of God’s message to his creation: You shall Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and You shall love your Neighbor as yourself. To them, this is the first step toward a world full of Mercy.
At the Mass, the Priest spoke on what it means to be a follower of God in light of the Gospel of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. He began by referencing the 7th Chapter in the Rule of St. Benedict; the rule on humility which states that “The first step of humility, then, is for man to set the fear of God always before his eyes.”
While this thought may be good in theory, sometimes we need to see this done in practice. It take more than someone to say that they are holy, or go to places or activities that makes them look holy or think in their mind that they are holy, but if there is no humility in these actions, then they are just hollow victories. It takes more than just trying to be holy or acting to be holy for someone to be holy, it takes a humble and merciful heart to look beyond the rules of faith and listen and adhere to the heart of faith.
These past two weeks, the Gospel has been talking in parables and morals on how one needs to behave in order to be a follower of God. Today, we see that theory put into practice. Jesus passed through the town of Jericho where everyone in the town came to see him. The majority of the crowd were observant to the Jewish Law and had heard of Jesus’ ministry throughout the area. The one person who many thought was not as observant than the rest was Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector.
His difficulty in seeing Jesus was due to his short stature, both figuratively and literally. Scriptures states he was shorter than most of the townspeople and, as someone who is an elected official that profits from the taxes of those around him, he was often looked down upon by the people that he served. So, in order for Zacchaeus to see Jesus, he had to make an effort to rise above them. So he climbed a sycamore tree and looked upon Jesus.
While Jesus was going through the town, the crowd pressed on Jesus to try to be near him, as if they can get some sort of blessing just by being in his presence. Yet when he came to the sycamore tree, Jesus saw Zacchaeus-and more importantly saw his faith-and told Zacchaeus to come down from the tree because Jesus will stay there for the night. Zacchaeus was overjoyed at the news, and pledged that he will repay all that he had taken from the town due to his greed of keeping his livelihood.
The righteous townsfolk of Jericho, on the other hand, became outraged at the thought of someone holy being associated with someone as lowly as a tax collector; the agent of the Roman Government. While the righteous only saw the strict observance of the Law as the way to salvation, Zacchaeus-a fellow descendent of Abraham- placed his focus on Jesus, and saw salvation come to his house.
We live in a society where many of us have fallen into two camps: one of theoretical and one of the observational. Those who believe in theories tend to look at those ideas that make sense to them; some way of living or particular view of the world that will be the deciding factor in bringing peace and prosperity to the area that would work if just everyone agreed to abide by it. Others look to a person or group of people led by an enigmatic leader as the salvation of their plight. They will hear the right things and will believe that the troubles that plague them is not their fault. It is someone else trying to take over their homes and their jobs that is the problem and I am the only one who can stop this from happening. In the end, we tend to look not for the one who can bring us out of despair, but to be relegated to the lesser of two evils.
On the surface, however, both concepts are not that bad. Many theories have been developed over the centuries that have improved the lives of many. A philosophical approach to life has been the goal of many of a society to move them forward. However, if we base our life on just theories, what happens when those theories become disproven? Or what about that one person who tells you that none of your problems is your fault and they have a way to get rid of them? What happens when that leader goes down in one way or another? Do we all hang on to our own sense of pride by adhering to an idea or continuing our version of hero-worship tribalism?
Well, here is where we take a bit from both and see that we have been a part of this for our entire lives. We believe in a God that gave us a way to live so that everyone could find a way to get along. To emphasize this, he sent his son to earth so that we had a hero to look up to and show us how to be God’s servant. And with the Holy Spirit, we keep those two together in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts as we live our lives.
In fact this concept is so precious in the eyes of God, that how we honor and worship him each Sunday is professed by us in the Mass: the asking for pardon, the profession of faith, the proclamation of God as Our Father in heaven, and the acceptance of Christ’s presence of Body and Blood in the simple forms of Bread and Wine. For if we did not accept this, then why do we keep him in a golden tabernacle? Not because it looks pretty or we have some weird sense of bread-worship. We believe and accept the instruction of God through the guidance of Jesus with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that how we view the world is the way in which will bring that peace. Philosophy plus true leadership multiplied by all of creation equals authentic belief. And belief in something greater than yourself is true humility.
When I was in St. Meinrad, I began to contemplate where I was from the point of humility. The town itself is only 850 people that grew from a Benedictine Monastery and Seminary that is designated as an Archabbey, where there are only a handful of places with this designation in the world. As I arrived, I was reminded of how timeless this place was. And I mean that literally. I looked at my watch and found out the battery had died an hour earlier. And you cannot rely on your smartphone for the time or as an alarm, either. The place is located between two time zones. So, if one was to get off the exit at I-64 and turn south toward St. Meinrad, they would be in the Central time zone. But if one were to turn north going toward the town of Ferdinand, where the Benedictine sisters reside, then one would be in the Eastern time zone. So the word timeless is very apt.
The chimes coming from the bell tower of the Archabbey Church are the only way to tell time. They ring on the quarter hour each day and ring continually 15 minutes prior to any service. Vigils and Lauds are at 5:30 in the morning, so the bells start to ring at 5:15. When I stepped out of the Guest House toward the church, it was a clear night with the moon and the stars shining from all around while the stain glass windows from the church illumined the exterior.
The monks filed into their stalls at one end of the church, facing one another in quiet reflection. The visitors sat next to the stalls, following the lead of the Monks as the opening tones of the chant began “Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” The monks prayed very soft and deliberate, as if each word in the psalm was more important than the one before. It was their example of humility within the psalms that makes these moments rather special.
The more we humble ourselves, the greater understanding we have of God’s mercy toward us. Then we, too, can reach the love of God that drives out all fear and allows us to do our work through unconditional love. As the Morning Prayers concluded, I left the church and noticed that the sun had begun to rise over the horizon, as if our prayers to God enabled the sun to come forth and start the new day. It was at this moment that I stopped; I looked at this scene in front of me and I asked myself, “How can someone have this experience in front of them and not be humbled in the presence of God?”
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK
Questions for Reflection:
- Why is going on Retreat different than going on Vacation?
- When was the last time you went away to listen to God?
- Who does Zacchaeus (and his position in the community) remind you of? How can his life inspire you in dealing
with those that you find in a lower level than yourself?