PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First
Impressions" the parishioners of St. Peter Parish in Memphis,
Luke’s story of the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus begins
by setting up the tax collector as the "bad guy." He collected taxes
for the Roman occupiers. Since tax collectors worked on a commission
he had plenty of opportunity to cheat, as was common among tax
collectors. To make matters worse, he was a "chief tax collector."
He is the bad guy all right and no body would like him. He is
unacceptable to his own people and we modern readers have no initial
reason to like him either.
Still, there is a note of hope for the man since Jesus identifies
him as "a descendent of Abraham." While we might have given up on
such a villain Zacchaeus, by birth, is a member of God’s people and
God made promises to the Jewish people to rescue them, not only from
their oppressors, but from their sin. In Jesus God has set out to
save the world – beginning with the Jews. Zacchaeus is an example of
how far God is willing to reach to bring the chosen people to God’s
renewing embrace – reaching as far as Zacchaeus, the outcast and
least among the Jews.
The gospel stories may appear different on the surface, but they
repeat a similar theme. The story of Zacchaeus is similar to the one
we heard last month of the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to look for
the lost one in the desert; or the diligent woman who sweeps her
house looking for her lost coin (Luke 15:1-10). In Zacchaeus Jesus
affirms what the "lost and found parables" tell about God: "For the
Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost." Or again,
last week we heard the parable of the penitent tax collector in the
temple whom Jesus said was "justified," i.e. put right with God.
Saving the sinners; searching out and finding the lost; setting
people right with God – it is a repetitious theme, isn’t it? It is
summed up by Jesus again today, "For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save the lost." Which is a summary of the entire gospel and
each and every gospel narrative.
The prophets had encouraged the downhearted Jewish people to
await "the Day of the Lord," when God would come to rescue them.
Jesus’ ministry suggests that Day had arrived, when he says to
Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to this house…." Zacchaeus
responded appropriately to God’s initiative by welcoming and opening
his home to Jesus. At table with Jesus he and his entire household
have a foretaste of the banquet God has prepared for each of us.
When the gift is given Zacchaeus responds enthusiastically, doing
what those who experience salvation do, sharing his possessions with
the poor and setting his life right with anyone he has cheated.
Concern for the poor, right relationship with others – signs indeed
that salvation has come to the home of Zacchaeus, a child of Abraham
remembered by God, who has searched and found the lost.
Once again we see the dynamics of the gospel working. Zacchaeus
doesn’t give his money to the poor to earn his salvation. Rather,
the gift of new life is given him and he reflects the gift of that
life by his exceeding generosity to those in need. His generosity
doesn’t have the note of a sacrifice he must do, but of a
spontaneous act of joy, reflecting the gift he has received. Too bad
the wealthy official in the previous story (18:18-23) didn’t take
the opportunity Jesus was offering him. Instead, his wealth got in
his way and blinded him to Jesus’ offer, so he turned away sad.
While Zacchaeus received Jesus "with joy."
Which makes us wonder. What am I not willing to let go of or
change as I respond to the daily presence of Jesus in my life? I
claim to believe in him, but has that made a significant difference
in how I live; whom I respond to in their need; what my priorities
are, etc.? Zacchaeus was willing to put aside whatever might
separate him from the fullness of life Jesus was giving him.
The numbers are a clue to Zacchaeus’ exuberant response to Jesus.
Leviticus (6:5) required that if a person admitted they had
defrauded anyone they must pay back the amount, plus 20%. Zacchaeus
offers to do more than he was required, "If I have extorted anything
from anyone I shall repay it four times over." Zacchaeus recognized
what happened and Jesus puts his stamp of approval on his response,
"Today salvation has come to this house…." And isn’t that true? When
a member of the family turns around their life, all benefit. Jesus
proclaims that he has come, "to seek and save what was lost." He
found Zacchaeus out on a limb. What about us? Where are we? Shall we
invite Jesus to come and gift us with the saving gift we need now?
In a local Walmart the "Returns Department" is near the main
entrance. There is always a line of people holding the items that
want to return and their purchase receipts. The "Lost and Found"
department isn’t as easy to find. It’s downstairs in the back corner
of the store. On the shelves are items that, for the most part,
people don’t care enough about to claim. There are baby bottles,
umbrellas, old school books, broken baby strollers, backpacks, water
bottles etc. People are busy and don’t seem to have time, or enough
interest, to search and claim their lost items. The rejected and
used items sit there till their time is up. Then they are gathered
and tossed into the scrap bin in the back of the store to be hauled
off to some landfill.
Notice what Jesus has been doing. Telling "lost and found"
parables and searching out the loss to claim them for his own. He’s
gone downstairs to the back of the store, to the "Lost and Found
Department" and found Zacchaeus on the back, unwanted shelf and
claimed him for his own. He is a child of Abraham and Jesus restores
him to the dignity his way of life has lessened and others have
denied him. Today Jesus might say it this way, "For the Son of Man
has gone down to the "Lost and Found Department" to seek, find and
save what was lost."
It requires quite an effort on Jesus’ part because what he does
for Zacchaeus will be one more occasion on his way to Jerusalem that
he offends the righteous, as they grumble, "He has gone to the house
of a sinner."
Jesus comes to our "Lost and Found Department." He wants to come
to the lost and confused parts of our lives. The parts we cover up
and want to forget. Indeed, he wants to make a home with us in the
very places we have closed up and locked away. He knocks and invites
us to let him in to change what we have given up on; to bring out
into the light the broken and discarded parts that need healing and
forgiveness. He wants to say to us what he said to Zacchaeus, "Today
I must stay at your house."
Shall we, with Zacchaeus and one another welcome him in his word
and in the bread and wine? Shall we make a permanent home for him?
As we do that he says once again to us what he said to Zacchaeus,
"Today salvation has come to this house."
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Every parting gives a foretaste of death;
every coming together again a
foretaste of the Resurrection
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed
As I am writing this article, Hurricane Matthew has passed out to
sea after leaving a path of havoc and flooding here in North
Carolina and along the southeastern coast of the U.S. But our
troubles pale in comparison to what has happened in Haiti again. The
hurricane may have reduced the southwestern side of Haiti to rubble
and mud but poverty is the disease that weakens and afflicts the
population. Houses made of tin collapse, lack of clean water and
infrastructure bring cholera, and malnutrition is a fact of life in
Haiti. At least two of our parishioners, Jay Butler and Kathy Dow,
have made trips to Haiti in past years and have brought back stories
and photos of the dire straits Haitians face on a daily basis as
well as memories of the resiliency and good nature of our island
brothers and sisters.
Trees for the Future reports: "Once known as "The Pearl of
the Antilles," Haiti is now one of the poorest and most
environmentally degraded countries in the Western Hemisphere. Less
than two percent of its original forests remain, the result of a
long history of unsustainable land use practices and a continuing
dependence on trees for fuel. Deforestation is causing a decline in
soil fertility, extensive flooding, and depleted groundwater
supplies. . .Much of the land can no longer support human life. More
than 80% of Haitians live in poverty, more than 50 percent in abject
poverty. . .two-thirds of people depend on agriculture for their
livelihoods." Trees for the Future has worked in Haiti since
early 2002, focusing their program on working with local farmers and
farming groups to plant trees in order to reforest degraded
hillsides and produce sustainable sources of fuel, construction
materials, and food.
List of Partnering Organizations: Ayiti Gouvenans (AG), Northwest
region, Biocarburants d'Haiti, Cabaret, HOPE (Haitians Overcoming
Poverty Everyday), Leogane, Lambi Fund of Haiti, Port-au-Prince,
Rural Haiti Project,Gros-Morne, St. Boniface Haiti Foundation/RATRAP,
Fond-des-Blancs, Timberland, USA, University of South Florida, USA,
VIVA Haiti, Gros-Morne, Yéle Haiti, Arcadine Coast, also, a program
in Medor in partnership with Our Lady Queen of Peace, a Catholic
church in Arlington, VA (Charity Navigator rating of 87.52%)
As we recover from Hurricane Matthew and turn our attention back
to our everyday lives, let us be changed to include concern for
those in Haiti. If you would like to plant a tree there, check out
. If you would like to do more as a parish effort, let me know at:
Let us lift up Haiti!
Coordinator of Social
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings
designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough
to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
looked up and said to Zacchaeus:
come down quickly,
I must stay at your house."
Jesus wants to come to the lost and confused parts
of our lives. The parts we cover up and want to forget. Indeed, as
he did with Zacchaeus, he wants to make a home with us in the very
places we have closed up and locked away.
So we ask ourselves:
DEATH ROW INMATES
"The use of the death penalty cannot really be
mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Linwood E. Forte #0133102 (On death row since 10/8/03)
- Scott D. Allen #0005091 (11/18/03)
- Terrance R. Elliott #0120236 (12/18/03)
----Central Prison - 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
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