Hosting Jesus

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 31C

I’ve mentioned before that I split my time between the two rectories in these parishes, mostly to save on mileage and driving time, also because they’re two of the best rectories in the diocese. I’m very privileged to be pastor here, but living in two places does have its challenges. I still haven’t completely unpacked and settled, but I also don’t have much occasion for hosting people at the parish houses. I did host my brother and his family once already a number of weeks ago. They live in Aberdeen and came over to Bowdle once for Mass and supper. I didn’t cook for them, so don’t worry. They brought the food with them in crock pots. But I kind of had to scramble to move the piles of stuff to the less public parts of the rectory. I’m kind of amazed at how ready Zacchaeus was to welcome Jesus into his home. How many of us would have some tidying up to do, if Jesus suddenly invited Himself over to our house or into our rooms? Would we be able to rejoice right away—as Zacchaeus does—to hear Jesus say, “I need to stay at your house”? Or are there certain things we wish he wouldn’t see? Maybe certain sins that we’ve let into our homes, sort of kept as pets, and that we make excuses for?

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 whatever He will find there, 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 and into our lives, into our minds and hearts. How do we prepare ourselves to receive such an honored Guest? How do we conduct ourselves in his Presence? Jesus is the King of the whole 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 each and every Mass. And, at all times, Jesus is here in the Tabernacle, waiting for us. When we come into 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, all the clutter, 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 just one last scene. And yet, so many Catholics 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 think is really important? One of the practices that I grew up with in Elk Point and in Jefferson and that I am glad to find in these parishes 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 from Holy Communion. Do we silence our conversations as we enter this church, before and after Mass, to give one another the opportunity to speak heart to heart with Jesus?

As Jesus enters in to the mess of our lives, our experience of God’s mercy is meant to transform us, even 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 change 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 and desires for us? 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.

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