31st Sunday in Ordinary Time C


In this famous story, Zacchaeus the tax collector is excited to see but that proves impossible as he is too short to catch a glimpse of him above the crowd that surrounds Jesus.  Jesus comes in like a rock star, some cheering, some jeering, some wanting to follow and some trying to disprove him.  Zacchaeus scrambles up a sycamore to see him and when Jesus approaches him, he calls him down and announces that he intends to stay with him.  Zacchaeus is delighted, but the authorities grumble.  Surely, Jesus should know that Zacchaeus is a sinner, a tax collector, a wealthy man who most surely got it by cheating.  But Zacchaeus is renewed by his encounter with Jesus and announces he is a changed man.  From now on he will give half his possessions to the poor and pay back four times anyone he has cheated.

It must be hard to imagine the excitement the Jesus movement generated.   The young were probably excited and the old were wary.  It split households. It split generations.  Yet, that was two thousand years ago and it is hard to stay fresh, new and interesting for all that time.  Too often, our Church is not associated with that excitement of the Jesus movement. Instead, we are perceived and too often have been the grumbling old guard.

I have been reading about religious seekers, those who are spiritual but are reluctant to find a home in any denomination.  They don’t give themselves to the truth of any one religion and they have a deep distrust of institutions.  And the Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the world. If we do not make our message and our mission fresh and relevant, those seekers will pass us right by.  But that is not the problem.  The problem is if we are too large, too self-involved, too passionless, we are not conveying the message of Jesus, the radical man of peace, the radical man of forgiveness and the radical man of love.

We must always tell our truth, but we must say it with a smile.  We must be a church of incredible invitation and warm welcome.  We must imitate the way Jesus insisted everyone belonged.  We must raise our voices in joyful song and speak with energy about the great love we have found in the love of Jesus Christ. 

I can’t tell you how many non-Catholics have come up to me and said, “Congratulations on your Pope.”  I just say, “Thank you, I guess.”  Yet, no one would say that Pope Francis has broken any new theological ground.  Instead, he has brought us back to our roots of what it means to be Christian – to humble, to be just, to be merciful, to love.  And it is proof that the message of Jesus is still relevant because people cannot get enough of it.

Think again about those seekers. What is one day they wandered into this Church or came with their family on Christmas Eve?  Well, we have a story to tell them.  If they have been carrying around a burden, we can tell them here it can be lifted.  If they have been carrying around guilt, we can tell how they can be forgiven.  We can tell them the story of how we stand up for justice and stand up for the poor.  We can tell them that the love of God is so powerful here that we taste it on our lips because we have been given the body and blood of Christ.

I want to be part of a new trendy religion called Catholicism.  One that is so attractive that young people, sinners, the wealthy and the poor would run up a tree to catch a glimpse of it.  We can do this because what we have is never old and tired because he whom we preach is current is alive. Jesus Christ is always new and always yes.  And so must our Church be as well.

I believe that we can do it.  It is not about your pastor because God knows our parish is good enough to overcome me.  It is not about our parish although I think we have a great parish. It is about Jesus.   If we just sound and act like him, it will work.  For when we share the word of Jesus, the whole world will listen for it is what the word the world has longed to hear.