Bottom line: Zacchaeus illustrates the humility and courage required to see Jesus - and he shows the way to respond to the gift of salvation.
Today we begin a three-week focus on Stewardship. This is so important that these three Sundays we will have no two-bit collection! When we mention Stewardship, many people think of "fund-raising," "tithing," and "sacrificial giving." That is part of it, but Stewardship means much more. When you come down to it, Stewardship is really another word for "salvation." Today's Gospel illustrates this. A man named Zacchaeus gets the chance to make a new beginning - and he responds with extraordinary generosity, extraordinary Stewardship. And Jesus says, "Today salvation has come to this house..."
Zacchaeus shows us the two steps involved in salvation. The first step is the desire to see Jesus. Almost everyone in the world has heard about Jesus. We know that Jesus is a very important person. He is so important that we date our calendars from his birth. Next year is 2008. That means two thousand and eight years since Jesus' coming. Jesus is the central person in human history.
Zacchaeus recognized Jesus' importance - and he wanted to see him. What did he do? He climbed tree. That is something that usually only a child does. You would be surprised if you saw Deacon Ted or Fr. Ramon up in a tree. For an adult to climb a tree requires humility. It also takes courage. A limb might break with disastrous consequences. But more important, a man in a tree could provoke laughter. And in the case of Zacchaeus, it would be worse. Seeing him in the tree, the townspeople would not only laugh; they make fun of him and even insult him.
Zacchaeus, after all, was a tax collector. Now, nobody enjoys paying taxes, but in Palestine a tax collector was more than someone who takes your hard earned money. A tax collector was a guy who betrayed his fellow countrymen for personal advantage. And Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho.
It took a lot of humility - and a lot of guts - to climb that tree. Maybe some of you experienced something similar in coming to Mass this morning. You might have felt a little nervous about the neighbors: "Well, look who's going to church." But like Zacchaeus, you are here because you want to see Jesus. To see Jesus requires humility and courage.
The first step to seeing Jesus is to overcome fear - and self-importance. But there is a second step. Zacchaeus beautifully illustrates what we must do when we see Jesus. Before talking about that vital second step, we have to notice something. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but Jesus was already seeking him. He called him by name, "Zacchaeus, come down." Then he told him that he wanted to stay in his house. What Jesus was doing was offering him a new start. By his greed Zacchaeus had put himself outside the family. Jesus was welcoming him back in. This is what is called "grace," God's incredible generosity.
There is only one logical response to God's generosity - and that is, generosity. Zacchaeus said that he would give half his possessions to the poor - and if he cheated anybody, he would pay it back four times over. There must of have been quite a line outside his house that evening.
No matter. Zacchaeus had experienced God's generosity. He knew that he could never give away too much. Before he met Jesus he was a collector. His life had become cluttered like a modern pack rat. When he met Jesus, he discovered the joy of being a steward. And Jesus said, "Salvation has come to this house..."
You and I are in the same position as Zacchaeus. God offers us his grace, his generosity. Salvation depends on our response. As your pastor, I want to help you on the way to salvation. That is my job - and it is the best job in the world. Everyone needs salvation. It is our deepest desire. During these weeks I will be giving you some practical helps.
This week each registered family will get a letter from me explaining Stewardship. It will include two pages of Frequently Asked Questions about Stewardship. And most important, it will have a worksheet for you with ideas about Stewardship of Time, Talent and Treasure. (Don't worry: if you are not on the parish list, we will have worksheets in the pews next weekend). The worksheets will help us address vital questions: How am I using my time for my relationship with God, my family and my community? Along with use of Time, comes Talents or abilities. I ask you to consider giving some of your time and talents for your parish: to help us with our worship, our outreach to others, faith formation, parish facilities and groups like St. Martha's Sodality and Knights of Columbus. Finally there is a section on Stewardship of Treasure: your earnings and financial resources. We will talk more about that next week when we have a testimony from a parish family.
Stewardship is salvation. It is our response to God's grace. Like Zacchaeus, we want to see Jesus. That requires humility and courage. When we do find Jesus, there is only one thing we can do in face of his generosity. Like Zacchaeus, we respond to generosity - with generosity.
From Archives (31st Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (MP3)
Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)
(Earthquake Relief, Returning to Holy Family, Bishop Eusebio)
Fr. Robert Spitzer on the Inevitability of a Singularity in Big Bang Cosmology (Essentially his point was that the evidence is now pointing very strongly to the universe as a creation of You Know Who...)
Patients and Students Helped by Mary Bloom Center
Visit to Site of Peruvian Meteorite
Pictures from Peru
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Resources for Geography of Faith
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru