Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 31C
When I was growing up at home, I used to hate having visitors. And it wasn’t just because I was shy. It was also because I was lazy. You see, every time we knew someone was coming to visit, we’d have to clean up around the house. I tried to convince my mom many times that we really shouldn’t clean up for visitors. It was deceitful. Instead of welcoming them into our home, we would be welcoming them into an artificially tidied-up version, really just the shell of our house that would then lack so much of that lived-in feeling. With up to nine kids in the house, though, there was no escaping the strong sense that the house was definitely lived in. But our small efforts at cleaning up were a sign of the respect we had for our visitors.
In the Gospel today, the tax collector Zacchaeus has very little opportunity to do much cleaning up around the house as Jesus invites himself over. With infinite mercy, Jesus is willing to enter in to the mess of Zacchaeus’s house and the mess of his life, and Zacchaeus is able to welcome him without embarrassment, without anxiety, but instead with overwhelming joy. But this experience of God’s great mercy does not leave Zacchaeus unchanged. His life is transformed. He confesses his faults and repents of his sins as he says, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Far more important than cleaning his house before Jesus arrives, Zacchaeus wants to set his heart in order, to cast out all greed and indifference, so that God can find a lasting home within him.
At every Mass, we, too, are given the awesome opportunity and privilege to welcome Jesus into our own homes, into our minds and hearts. How do we prepare ourselves to receive such a Guest? How do we conduct ourselves in his Presence? Jesus is the King of the Universe, of all that exists. He’s more important than the pope or the president of the United States, and he comes to visit us at every Mass. And, at all times, Jesus is here in the Tabernacle. One of the reasons that the Tabernacle was moved during the renovation was to make it easier for us to keep our focus on Christ when we are here in this worship space. When we come in to the church, are we attentive to the Presence of Christ? Do we silence not only our cell phones, but even more importantly, do we silence our minds and hearts, and do we arrive early to give ourselves the time we need to put aside our distractions and plans and worries, so that we can really focus, and welcome Jesus with joy?
Another priest shared with me his amazement that so many people would never think of arriving late to the movies, after the show had already begun, and then how so many people are willing to wait at the end through the entire credit sequence to see if there’s one last scene. And yet, so many of us think very little of arriving late to Mass or of leaving before the final blessing and dismissal. What do we really value in life, and how do our actions show to God what we really think is important? One of the practices that I grew up with in Elk Point and in Jefferson was that after the final hymn, everyone in the church would kneel down in silence to give everyone a chance to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the great gift that we had just received, to speak with Jesus, still dwelling within us.
Do we silence our conversations as we enter this worship area, before and after Mass, to give one another the opportunity to speak with Jesus? I’m glad that Holy Spirit is a friendly and welcoming parish, but there is a time and a place for everything, and the narthex or entryway of the church is a better place to have our conversations, as we try to maintain an atmosphere of silence within this worship area. I hope we care enough about our relationship with Jesus, and our neighbor’s relationship with Jesus, to be more disciplined about treating this area of the church as a sacred space.
As Jesus enters in to the mess of our lives, our experience of God’s mercy is meant to transform us, as it transformed Zacchaeus, who not only confessed his sins but truly repented and made the necessary changes in order to welcome Jesus fully and follow him in his daily life. Have we allowed God’s mercy to transform us, to actually free us from our sins? Or do we become presumptuous and treat the mercy of God casually, comfortable with where we’re at or giving up on the freedom and transformation that Jesus promises? When we are more focused and attentive to the Presence of Christ in this church and in this Eucharist, we open our minds and hearts to the transforming power of the mercy of God, who wants to dwell within us not only every Sunday, but every day and every moment of our lives. May God fill us, as he filled Zacchaeus, with the burning desire to see Jesus, to climb any tree or to put aside any sin or distraction, and to be transformed.