Homily for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (29 & 30/10/22)

posted 31 Oct 2022, 03:49 by Parish Office

Sometimes, people can have misconceptions of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve mentioned before that Our Lord is not a teddy bear. Today, we see that He wasn’t an Englishman either. Fancy inviting Himself round to someone’s house, and not giving everyone time to prepare! “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus didn’t reply, “Yes, Lord, but Wednesday is the day my wife gets the washing done. And we’ve not been shopping today and the market’s already closed. And as well as that, Jericho is playing Capernaum this evening in the local games. Can’t you come round another day?” God is impatient when it comes to our own conversion. He can’t wait until tomorrow. It has to happen today. It reminds me of a conversion story I read some time ago. I can’t remember the name of the person, but he was an Anglican who became a Catholic. He said that he had studied the matter, and he knew that he had to become a Catholic. But to begin with, he put it off. But then it occurred to him: what if I were to die, and God said to me, “Why didn’t you become a Catholic?” So he decided, that very week, to go and see a Catholic priest about his desire to convert.

So Our Lord goes to visit Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ conversion is not a half-hearted affair. He doesn’t say he might think about changing his life, when he has a bit more time, because being a tax collector, well, there’s just so much to do, and the tax office is always making its demands. No, he decides there and then to change everything. And not only is he going to convert, he’s also going to make good amends for his previous life. The fiscal officer declares his income, and taxes it generously for the poor and any he may have wronged: “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount”. Imagine if someone had come to me in confession and admitted to stealing, and I had said, for your penance, I want you to give back four time the amount you stole. But Zacchaeus is really zealous in putting things right. Our Lord has truly struck whilst the iron was hot. Today is the day of salvation, not tomorrow, when I get round to it and I’m not so busy.

Also looking at the Gospel, we see the reaction of the crowd when Jesus went to visit Zacchaeus. They grumbled. “ ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said.” In the first reading, there’s a good explanation of Our

Lord’s technique. It says, “you are merciful to all … and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent” [emphasis added]. God’s mercy makes it possible for us to repent. There would be no point, if we were only going to be punished and condemned. I can remember reading a book which was in cartoon format, explaining the Catholic faith. It said that some people only go to Mass because they are afraid of God’s punishment, and there was a picture of a man in bed, clutching the sheets, because he had missed Mass, and God’s hand was pointing at him and saying, “I’ll get you, Murphy!”

So if God is merciful, we need to be merciful too. As Oscar Wilde, of all people, once said, the Catholic Church is for saints and sinners. We have to make it easy for people to return, rather than making them feel unwelcome and uneasy. And we also might need to give them a bit of help and encouragement in returning to confession. It’s not easy to admit your faults. In the NHS, when something goes wrong (as opposed to majorly wrong), the idea is to try to use it as a learning experience, rather than a blame and shame exercise. In the Church, when it comes to confession, the priest is there to administer God’s mercy, not His wrath. In the very first Don Camillo film, the mayor goes to confession to Don Camillo and admits that he was the one that ambushed him in the dark down a side- street. After the confession is over, Don Camillo is thinking of getting his revenge, and hitting the mayor with the paschal candle. But God warns him and says, “I pardoned, and you must. … Your hands are made for blessing, not hitting.”

Our Lord is not an Englishman. Conversion is more important than social convention. God urgently desires our repentance. We need to strike whilst the iron is hot and encourage others to do the same, because “the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost”.