The Grace of an Encounter

Lectio Divina: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

Light of candles into a church

Pixabay.com - Foto-Rabe

Roman rite

Wis 11.22 – 12.2; Ps 145; 2 Thess 1.11 to 2.2; Lk 19,1-10

Ambrosian Rite

Is 25,6-10a; Ps 35; Rm 4.18 to 25; Mt 22,1-14

Second Sunday after the Dedication of the Cathedral.

People’s participation to salvation

1) A matter of glances.

In the journey of Jesus toward Jerusalem that, as I said before, does not follow the logic of geography but that of merciful redemption, today we accompany him to Jericho. As we pass with Him through this town, we encounter not only the people but also Zacchaeus, the tax collector-chief of the customs of Jericho, border area of the Roman province. At first glance, this seems like a “difficult case” not only because this man, for his work, was considered a public sinner to avoid as legally impure, but also because he was a cheater and a collaborator with the enemy, the Roman occupant for whom he collected taxes. He is also a rich man, and a short time before, Jesus had said to a rich young man: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 18:25). Fortunately, the mercy of the Redeemer does not stop in front of difficult cases. Today, we are given the example of the encounter of the Savior with Zacchaeus, whose conversion demonstrates that no human condition is incompatible with salvation: “Today salvation has come to this house”.  There He has taken home to rest.

Only Jesus, true man and true God, could do this: enter the house of an excommunicated sinner to rest, and save him. In the Greek text there is the word cataluo that is the same as cataluma which is used twice in the Gospel of Luke:  at Jesus’ birth, where the cave is indicated by the word of this passage of the Gospel, and at the Last Supper.  Also in this third event the word indicates, as a resting place, the Last Supper, where Christ will celebrate the Eucharist.  Today’s text explains very well the meaning and the aim of the Savior’s life from his birth to his death, the Eucharist where he is to be fed to all sinners. He becomes our life if we, repentant sinners, welcome him.

Let’s follow the example of this converted man. Zacchaeus knows that he is a sinner needing God’s forgiveness. With this man, small in stature, let’s climb up the tree to see Jesus. The Redeemer will lift his gaze to each of us and to us too He will say: “’Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house. ’And he came down quickly and received him with joy” (Lk 19: 5-6).

It all starts with an exchange of glances. Zacchaeus (each of us) wants to see Jesus, and this desire corresponds to the need for Jesus to stop and dwell in the house of a sinner that then changes his life, beginning with giving half of his possessions to the poor.

2) Searching for Mercy.

However, it important to note that, as in the case of Zacchaeus, the initiative belongs to Christ and is free. Of course, it is embedded in man’s availability. The encounter with God is always at the same time a gift and the completion of a search. It is the fulfillment of a wish.  Not only Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus, but also Jesus was looking for Zacchaeus. The initiative of God precedes that of men, who open their homes God. An English painter painted a Jesus who knocks behind a closed door, while the storm rages. He is in the midst of weeds and brambles. Since the handle is only from the inside, it is not possible to enter until someone opens. It is a beautiful image of God and us! Only we can open the door to Christ. We are the only one who can reverse the way to the source of life, the only ones that can let be welcome by the One who” has mercy on all for the sake of repentance” ( Sap.11,23)

The first step of this journey of conversion- according to today’s Gospel- is the “desire to see”. Zacchaeus wants to see “who Jesus was.” However, I do not think Zacchaeus had left home because he wanted to convert. Certainly in his heart and in his mind there was something: a desire for truth and goodness that urged him. Probably it was curiosity, a desire to know a person of whom many people were talking about. In any case, this curious research is bound to the wanting to see. It is the meeting of the eyes and the acceptance of his invitation, or better, of his self-invitation to stop in our house to dwell with us. Who would have imagined that God “must” abide in each of us? For God this is the “duty” of love that climbs the tree (the cross of life) in our place and save us.

The second step to change life is the “call” of Jesus, who always wants to save the sinner. Jesus invites or rather invites himself, but this self-invitation had already begun in Bethlehem in a cave.

The third step is that Zacchaeus (each of us) “answers”, filled with joy, to the call. The human life is thus a joyful response to the Love that heals and saves. We must let ourselves be surprised by joy because who could imagine that the answer is to host God asking to rest in our house, in our fragile love? With love healed and strengthened by Love, each of us accepts God in the house of his heart, where Christ is resting because he is welcomed and loved. Elsewhere, the Son of God is on the Cross.

Finally, the fourth and fifth step of the conversion are the atonement of sin (“If I stole it, restore it fourfold”) and sharing (“Here’s the half of my goods to the poor”).

The decision for these steps is the answer to salvation that went to Lazarus in Christ. He is the Son of God who came to seek and save what is lost. Let’s remember the parable of the shepherd who says “Come with me! Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” Jesus is the Son of Man that has come to seek man. It is God who became man to meet every lost man, and so he really is God. He is love, then man becomes again man to be loved and to love and being in the image and likeness of the creator. This is the most beautiful scene of the gospel. It is a scene that refers to the previous passage of today’s Gospel that speaks of the blind man who comes to the light. This is the first little man that comes to light, the very light of God.

Zacchaeus, “sought” and “saved” without conditions, sees his heart now turned into a free source of love despite the “murmurings” and the “scandal” that always an unforeseen conversion causes. Freed from himself, he gives himself without reserve to his brothers, “poor” like him.

Accepting “today” Christ who invites himself into our home through the Church that teaches us with the Word and the sacraments, we can live fully each day. It was “necessary and appropriate”, as stated in the original Greek text, that Christ has “stopped” at the house of Zacchaeus, as “today” in our lives. It was “convenient” for those who are close to us, to whom we can finally give back “four times as much” what we have unjustly taken away. It was “convenient” for the world to which every risen Zacchaeus can proclaim the love he was entitled to, multiplied by the mercy of God.

Patristic reading

Golden Chain

on Lc 19: 1-10

AMBROSE; Zacchaeus in the sycamore, the blind man by the way side: upon the one our Lord waits to show mercy, upon the other He confers the great glory of abiding in his house.

The chief among the Publicans is here fitly introduced. For who will hereafter despair of himself, now that he attains to grace who gained his living by fraud. And he too moreover a rich man, that we may know that not all rich men are covetous.

CYRIL; But Zacchaeus made no delay in what he did, and so was accounted worthy of the favor of God, which gives sight to the blind, and calls them who are afar off.

TIT. BOST. The seed of salvation had begun to spring up in him, for he desired to see Jesus, having never seen Him. For if he had seen Him, he would long since have given up the Publican’s wicked life. No one that sees Jesus can remain any longer in wickedness. But there were two obstacles to his seeing Him. The multitude not so much of men as of his sins prevented him, for he was little of stature.

AMBROSE; What means the Evangelist by describing his stature, and that of none other? It is perhaps because he was young in wickedness, or as yet weak in the faith. For he was not yet prostrate in sin who could climb up. He had not yet seen Christ.

TIT. BOST. But he discovered a good device; running before he climbed up into a sycamore, and saw Him whom he had long wished for, i.e. Jesus, passing by. Now Zacchaeus desired no more than to see, but He who is able to do more than v e ask for, granted to Him far above what he expected; as it follows,

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him. He saw the soul of the man striving earnestly to live a holy life, and converts him to godliness.

AMBROSE; Uninvited he invites Himself to his house; as it follows, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down, &c. for He knew how richly He would reward his hospitality. And though He had not yet heard the word of invitation, He had already seen the will.

BEDE; See here, the camel disencumbered of his hunch passes through the eye of a needle, that is, the rich man and the publican abandoning his love of riches, and loathing his dishonest gains, receives the blessing of his Lord’s company. It follows, And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

AMBROSE; Let the rich learn that guilt attaches not to the goods themselves, but to those who know not how to use them. For riches, as they are hindrances to virtue in the unworthy, so are they means of advancing it in the good.

PSEUDO-CHRYS. Observe the gracious kindness of the Savior. The innocent associates with the guilty, the fountain of justice with covetousness, which is the source of injustice. Having entered the publican’s house, He suffers no stain from the mists of avarice, but disperses them by the bright beam of His righteousness. But those who deal with biting words and reproaches, try to cast a slur upon the things which were done by Him; for it follows, And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

But He, though accused of being a wine-bibber and a friend of publicans, regarded it not, so long as He could accomplish His end. As a physician sometimes can not save his patients from their diseases without the defilement of blood. kind so it happened here, for the publican was converted, and lived a better life. Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any man, I restore him fourfold. Behold here is a marvel: without learning he obeys. And as the sun pouring its rays into a house enlightens it not by word, but by work, so the Savior by the rays of righteousness put to flight the darkness of sin; for the light shines in darkness. Now every thing united is strong, but divided, weak, therefore Zacchaeus divides into two parts his substance. But we must be careful to observe, that his wealth was not made up from unjust gains, but from his patrimony, else how could he restore fourfold what he had unjustly extorted. He knew that the law ordered what was wrongly taken away to be restored fourfold, that if the law deterred not, a man’s losses might soften him. Zacchaeus waits not for the judgment of the law, but makes himself his own judge.

THEOPHYL. If we examine more closely, we shall see that nothing was left of his own property. For having given half of his goods to the poor, out of the remainder he restored fourfold to those whom he had injured. He not only promised this, but did it. For he says not, “I will give the half, and I will restore fourfold, but, I give, and I restore. To such Christ announces salvation; Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, signifying that Zacchaeus had attained to salvation, meaning by the house the inhabitant thereof. And it follows, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For He would not have given the name of a son of Abraham to a lifeless building.

BEDE; Zacchaeus is called the son of Abraham, not because he was born of Abraham’s seed, but because he imitates his faith, that as Abraham left his country and his father’s house, so he abandoned all his goods in giving them to the poor. And He well says, “He also,” to declare that not only those who had lived justly, but those who are raised up from a life of injustice, belong to the sons of promise.

THEOPHYL. He said not that he “was” a son of Abraham, but that he now is. For before when he was the chief among the publicans, and bore no likeness to the righteous Abraham, he was not his son. But because some murmured that he tarried with a man who was a sinner, he adds in order to restrain them, For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

PSEUDO-CHRYS. Why do you accuse me if I bring sinners to righteousness? So far am I from hating them, that for their sakes I came. For I came to heal, not to judge, therefore am I the constant guest of those that are sick, and I suffer their noisomeness that I may supply remedies. But some one may ask, how does Paul bid us, If we have a brother that is a fornicator or covetous man, with such not even to take food; whereas Christ was the guest of publicans? They were not as yet so far advanced as to be brethren, and besides, St. Paul bids us avoid our brethren only when they persist in evil, but these were converted.

BEDE; Mystically, Zacchaeus, which is by interpretation “justified,” signifies the Gentile believers, who were depressed and brought very low by their worldly occupations, but sanctified by God. And he was desirous to see our Savior entering Jericho, inasmuch as he sought to share in that faith which Christ brought into the world.

CYRIL; The crowd is the tumultuous state of an ignorant multitude, which cannot see the lofty top of wisdom. Zacchaeus therefore, while he was in the crowd, saw not Christ, but having advanced beyond the vulgar ignorance, was thought worthy to entertain Him whom he desired to look upon.

BEDE; Or the crowd that is, the general habit of vice, which rebuked the blind man crying out, lest he should seek the light, also impedes Zacchaeus looking up, that he might not see Jesus; that as by crying out the more the blind man overcame the crowd, so the man weak in the faith by forsaking earthly things, and climbing the tree of the Cross, surmounts the opposing multitude. The sycamore, which is a tree resembling the mulberry in foliage, but exceeding it in height, whence by the Latins it is called “lofty,” is called the “foolish fig-tree,” and so the Cross of our Lord sustains believers, as the fig-tree figs, and is mocked by unbelievers as foolishness. This tree Zacchaeus, who was little in stature, climbed up, that he might be raised together with Christ; for every one who is humble, and conscious of his own weakness, cries out, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

AMBROSE; He has well added, that our Lord was to pass that way, either where the sycamore-tree was, or where he was who was about to believe, that so He might preserve the mystery, and sow the seeds of grace. For He had so come as that through the Jews He came to the Gentiles. He sees then Zacchaeus above, for already the excellence of his faith shone forth amidst the fruits of good works, and the loftiness of the fruitful tree; but Zacchaeus stands out above the tree, as one who is above the law.

BEDE; The Lord as He journeyed came to the place where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore, for having sent His preachers throughout the world in whom He Himself spoke and went, He comes to the Gentile people, who were already raised up on high through faith in His Passion, and whom when He looked up He saw, for He chose them through grace. Now our Lord once abode in the house of the chief of the Pharisees, but when He did works such as none but God could do, they railed at Him Wherefore hating their deeds He departed, saying, Your house shall be left to you desolate; but now He must needs stay at the house of the weak Zacchaeus, that is, by the grace of the new law brightly shining, He must take rest in the hearts of tile lowly nations. But that Zacchaeus is bid to come down from the sycamore tree, and prepare an abode for Christ, this is what the Apostle says, Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. And again elsewhere, For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God. It is plain that the Jews always hated the salvation Of the Gentiles; but salvation, which formerly filled the houses of the Jews, has this day shone upon the Gentiles, forasmuch as this people also by believing on God is a son of Abraham.

THEOPHYL. It is easy to turn this to a moral use. For whoever surpasses many in wickedness is small in spiritual growth, and cannot see Jesus for the crowd. For disturbed by passion and worldly things, he beholds not Jesus walking, that is, working in us, not recognizing His operation. But he climbs up to the top of a sycamore-tree, in that he rises above the sweetness of pleasure, which is signified by a fig, and subduing it, and so becoming more exalted, he sees and is seen by Christ.

GREG. Or because the sycamore is from its name called the foolish fig, the little Zacchaeus gets up into the sycamore and sees the Lord, for they who humbly choose the foolish things of this world are those who contemplate most closely the wisdom of God. For what is more foolish in this world than not to seek for what is lost, to give our possessions to robbers, to return not injury for injury? However, by this wise foolishness, the wisdom of God is seen, not yet really as it is, but by the light of contemplation.

THEOPHYL. The Lord said to him, Make haste and come down, that is, “you have ascended by penitence to a place too high for you, come down by humility, lest your exaltation cause you to sky. I must abide in the house of a humble man. We have two kinds of goods in us, bodily, and spiritual; the just man gives up all his bodily goods to the poor, but he forsakes not his spiritual goods, but if he has extorted any thing from any one, he restores to him fourfold; signifying thereby that if a man by repentance walks in the Opposite path to his former perverseness, he by the manifold practice of virtue heals all his old offenses, and so merits salvation, and is called the son of Abraham, because he went out from his own kindred, that is, from his ancient wickedness.

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