This is a modification of Today’s Homily on the Gospel of Zacchaeus
As Jesuits when we pray, we often like to use our imaginations. We call it imaginative contemplation. You put yourself in the middle of the Gospel Scene – and watch, and listen and even try and smell & touch what is happening. Today’s Gospel of Zacchaeus is a wonderful scene to do this with. Zacchaeus the small tax collector, hated by many people for helping the Romans and becoming rich from his collaboration and probably his corruption. Jesus is coming and as always attracting great crowds – so Zacchaeus climbs the tree to see him pass, and Jesus invites him down – and we have this wonderful conversion of Zacchaeus – I’ll give half of what I own to the poor. Notice the key dynamic with this story – it is through this encounter with Jesus, that his heart changes. As he scurries down the tree he his joyful, even though everyone is complaining around him. It is when we encounter Jesus – that our hearts change….. In the mass we have the perfect setting to encounter Jesus. We believe that the risen Lord is here amongst us now – that he is uniquely present in his word and in the Eucharist. But just because we are present here – just because we are sitting in the pews – it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are encountering him. Zacchaeus hears his invitation and comes scurrying down to meet him, joyfully. We are here today at mass, and we maybe just going through the motions, here out of duty – it might even have become such a habit that we aren’t really noticing what is going on. How can we encounter Jesus today if our hearts are not open to him, if we stay sitting up in the tree? Even more dangerous – we may not feel the need for Jesus. Zacchaeus knew he needed to be saved from his greedy ways. Look how he promises to give to the poor. We may be a bit too complacent, a bit too comfortable to encounter Jesus.
Pope Francis has a lovely image – of the shepherd who goes out to the save the lost sheep. He says sometimes in the state of our church today, have lost the 99 sheep and only have one left. And instead of going out to look for the 99 – we stay in and look after the one we have, like hairdressers fussing over the one sheep. How do we go out prudently and gently evangelise? On Friday night we had a group of 30 students praying in the church – they lit candles all over the place, had beautiful music, and then in groups of two – holding lanterns they waited outside the church and invited people in to light a candle. Different people came in. One man said that it was lovely to be invited in – he hadn’t been in a church for 20 years, and then he asked if he could stay a while and just sit. Others came in and asked to speak to a priest after they had lit their candles. It was a gentle way of reaching out to the lost 99 sheep as Pope Francis said. We called the event – Nightfever ( a movement that started in Germany) – and we will hold it every first Friday of the month. So be careful that we don’t become too comfortable and too complacent in our faith. Learn from Zacchaeus – what more can I do? How can I help the poor – remember being in mass is not enough – we know we have encountered Jesus when our hearts our changed – so let’s sit in silence for a moment – and ask Jesus to help us to climb down from our trees. How can we encounter him? In what way can get more involved in our faith??? Don’t be frightened to ask him – here and now.