31st Sunday of the Year Wisdom 11:22–12:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1–10
The hole Jesus often knocks at the door of our lives, but it’s up to us to open the door to him. One of the pioneers of prison reform in the United States was a converted criminal named Starr Daily. The story behind Daily’s conversion is as strange as it is beautiful. When Daily was sentenced to prison for the third time in his life, the judge said to him: “More punishment is not what you need, but I don’t know what else to do in your case. Our helplessness is your hopelessness.’’ During Daily’s third stay in prison, his behavior got so bad that he ended up in solitary confinement in “the hole.’’ Usually a prisoner lasts two weeks there. After that a doctor comes, checks him, and orders him removed to a regular prison cell. But the usual two weeks came and went for Daily. Then one day something remarkable happened. As Daily lay on the ice-cold floor of “the hole,’’ a strange thought crossed his mind. He had always been a dynamo of power and energy. Suddenly he began to wonder what would have happened to him had he used his power and energy for good rather than for evil. The thought completely boggled his mind. For a long time he just lay there thinking about it. What happened next is hard to describe. Daily began to dream disconnected dreams of Jesus Christ, the man he’d tried to block out of his life for so long. Jesus seemed to pause at his side and look into his eyes, as if he were trying to enter his soul. In all his life, Daily had never felt such love. Then all the people Daily had hurt in his life seemed to parade through his mind. And as they did, Daily poured out love on them, which seemed to heal their hurts. That experience changed Daily completely. Before the experience, he was a hardened criminal, filled with hate. After it, he was a new man, filled with love. Eventually Daily was released from prison and began a career of speaking and writing to promote prison reform. Commenting on Daily’s remarkable conversion, Peter Marshall, the famous chaplain of Congress, said: “Starr Daily is the best living proof I’ve ever seen that ‘a new creature in Jesus Christ’ is not just the old man patched up, but an altogether new man.’’ Catherine Marshall, A Man Called Peter The story of Starr Daily bears a striking resemblance to the story of Zacchaeus in today’s gospel. Both men were living bad lives. Both men encountered Jesus. Both men were remarkably transformed by that encounter. And both men made reparation for their past. Daily poured out love, in a prayerful way, on those he had hurt. He also devoted the rest of his life to prison reform. Zacchaeus gave half his belongings to the poor. And to those he had cheated, he gave back four times what he had taken. This was double the amount required by Jewish law. (Exodus 22:3) How do the stories of Daily and Zacchaeus apply to our own lives? Both stories remind us of something we tend to forget. Jesus wants to enter our lives and change us for the better, just as he changed Daily and Zacchaeus. But Jesus won’t force himself upon us, just as he didn’t force himself upon Daily and Zacchaeus. He leaves us free. Jesus behaves toward us the same way he behaved toward the woman in the Gospel who had the hemorrhage. (Mark 5:25–34) Recall her story. One day Jesus was passing by, and the woman said to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will get well.” Mark 5:28 She reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. Jesus often walks into our lives. When he does, we need only do what the woman did. We need only reach out and touch his garments. If we do, he will heal us, just as he did her, just as he did Starr Daily, and just as he did Zacchaeus. This brings us to our final point. When can we be sure that Jesus is really walking by in our lives? There are several times when Jesus walks by in our lives, in a special way. Consider just three. First, Jesus becomes present in our lives, in a special way, each time the Scriptures are read and explained at Mass. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me. . . .’ ” And so the first time Jesus becomes present in our lives, in a special way, is in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. Second, Jesus becomes present in our lives, in a special way, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.” John 6:56 And so besides being present, in a special way, when the words of Scripture are broken and explained to us in the Liturgy of the Word, Jesus is also present, in a special way, when his body is broken and given to us in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Finally, Jesus is present, in a special way, whenever we encounter needy people. Jesus said that whoever helps one of these helps him. (Matthew 25:40) And so there are three times, in particular, when we can be sure that Jesus becomes present in our lives in a special way. They are when the word of the Lord is broken and read to us, when the body of the Lord is broken and given to us, and when a member of the family of the Lord is broken and comes to us for help. When Jesus becomes present to us in one of these three ways, we need only do what Starr Daily did, what Zacchaeus did, and what the woman did. We need only reach out, touch Jesus, and invite him into our lives, just as they did. And if we do, he will enter our lives and heal us, just as he did them. Let’s close with these beautiful words from the Book of Revelation. Jesus says to us there: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him, and he will eat with me.” Revelation 3:20
31st Sunday of the Year Wisdom 11:22–12:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2; Luke 19:1–10 Where we meet Jesus We meet Jesus, especially, in the Liturgy of the Word, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and in our needy brothers and sisters. Harold Hughes was the governor of Iowa and a United States senator. But his life was not always so successful. In his autobiography, Hughes says that in his younger years he was “a drunk, a liar, and a cheat.’’ At one point in his life, he had wrecked everything and was convinced that all was lost. And so one night he got into the bathtub and prepared to kill himself. He positioned a shotgun on his stomach and put the muzzle in his mouth. As Hughes was about to pull the trigger, he suddenly recalled that the Bible said it was wrong to take one’s life. And so he decided to explain to God why he was doing such a terrible thing. He climbed back out of the bathtub, knelt down on the cold tile floor, and rested his head on the rim of the tub. There, he talked to God, sobbing as he did. Then something happened that he had never experienced in his life. He says in his autobiography: “A warm peace seemed to settle within me. . . . My sins seemed to evaporate. . . . God was reaching down and touching me. . . . Like a stricken child lost in a storm, I had suddenly stumbled into the warm arms of my Father. . . . Kneeling on that bathroom floor, I gave myself [to God] totally, [saying], ‘Whatever You ask me to do, Father . . . I will do it.’ ’’ That remarkable experience was the beginning of a complete conversion for Harold Hughes. Ten years later, he was elected the governor of Iowa. Seventeen years later, he was elected to the United States Senate. Finally, in 1975, he retired from politics to work full-time in alcohol- and drug-related programs. The story of Harold Hughes bears a striking resemblance to the story of Zacchaeus in today’s gospel. It is the story of someone who went from a life of sin to a life of service. It is the story of someone who opened his heart to God and had that heart filled with a joy that he never dreamed to be possible. The stories of Harold Hughes and Zacchaeus illustrate something that we tend to forget. They illustrate in a dramatic way that Jesus wants to enter our lives and change them for the better— just as he did the lives of Hughes and Zacchaeus. But Jesus doesn’t force himself upon us. He leaves us free. Another gospel story illustrates this point even better. It is the story of the woman who had a hemorrhage. One day Jesus walked into her life, the same way that he walked into the lives of Hughes and Zacchaeus. It happened this way: Jesus was passing by on the road. Seeing him, the woman said to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will get well.” Mark 5:28 Then she reached out, touched the cloak of Jesus, and was healed. Jesus did not force himself upon the sick woman. He simply walked into her life and invited her to respond. And this brings us to our own personal lives. Jesus often walks into our lives, as he did into the lives of Hughes, Zacchaeus, and the woman. When he does, we need only reach out to him, and he will do for us what he did for them. This raises a question: When can we be sure that Jesus walks into our lives? There are three times, especially. The first is when the Scriptures are read at Mass. Jesus assured his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.’’ Luke 10:16 And so Jesus is walking into our lives right now, in a special way, as we listen to his words in Scripture. A second time Jesus walks into our lives is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Again, Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.” John 6:56 And so the second time Jesus walks into our lives, in a special way, is in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which we will celebrate in just a few minutes. Finally, Jesus walks into our lives, in a special way, whenever we encounter a needy brother or sister. Once again, Jesus said that whatever we do for one of these, we do for him. (Matthew 25:40) And so there are three times, especially, when we can be sure that Jesus walks into our lives: in the Liturgy of the Word, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and when we encounter a needy brother or sister. At these times Jesus walks into our lives just as surely as he did into the lives of Harold Hughes, Zacchaeus, and the woman. When this happens, we need only reach out and invite Jesus to do for us what he did for them. This is the message of today’s gospel. This is what we celebrate in today’s liturgy. This is the good news that Jesus wants each one of us to carry with us today as we leave this church.
31st Sunday of the Year Wisdom 11:22–12:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2, Luke 19:1–10 I want to stay in your house We encounter Jesus in the broken word, the broken bread, and the broken person. Jesus said,] “I must stay in your house today.” Luke 19:5 The Catholic Digest carries a regular feature called “The Open Door.” It contains first-person stories of how people happened to become Catholic. One of these stories, especially, struck me. The author wrote: I was . . . a sullen teen . . . [who] disliked almost everything. I was spending the weekend with my grandparents [in Michigan], and when you spend a weekend with my grandparents, you go to garage sales. . . . [At one sale,] I found myself looking at a picnic table covered with books, hanging my head, and trying to look cool even though I was at a garage sale. . . . [Most of the books were romance paperbacks. But one book on the table caught my eye. It was called Of the Imitation of Christ.] I had no interest in Christ but the back of the book said the author was a medieval monk, and that seemed cool to me. Anyone who hates society enough to leave it forever must be cool, I thought. I thumbed through a few pages, and the author seemed to have contempt for everything. Chapter one was even called “Contempt of all the Vanities of the World.” That could have been the title . . . of a [song] I would have listened to. So I bought the book [for ten cents]. Chene Heady, Catholic Digest (June 1998) To make a long story short, that book changed the teenager’s life and helped him see Jesus in a way that he had not thought of him before. It took a few more years for him to work out all his problems. But eventually he became a Catholic. There’s a parallel between the young man’s story and the story of Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. Zacchaeus—like the young man— didn’t fit in with the society of his day. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. They were Jews who worked for Rome. They acquired the right to collect taxes by bidding for the job. Once they got it, it was up to them to get their investment back— and make a profit. Because tax collectors worked for the Roman government, they could count on Roman cooperation. They were often notoriously corrupt. One day Jesus came to Jericho, where Zacchaeus lived. Jesus didn’t fit in too well with the conventional society of his day, either. So Zacchaeus wanted to see who this Jesus was and what he was like. Since he was short and the crowd was large, Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a good look at Jesus. The rest of the story is history. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, stopped, and said to him, “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.” Luke 19:5 When the crowd heard this, they started grumbling, saying of Jesus, “This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!” Luke 19:7 That encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus’ life forever. That brings us to each one of us in this church today. How might the stories of the teenager and of Zacchaeus apply to our lives? Both stories illustrate that— regardless of how good or bad we are— there are times in our lives when Jesus of Nazareth says to us, “I must stay in your house today.” In fact, there are three times, especially, when this is likely to happen to us. The first time is during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, which we are celebrating at this very moment. Jesus himself assured his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” Luke 10:16 In other words, when the Gospel is read and explained at Mass, Jesus speaks directly and personally to each one of us. We have Jesus’ word for this. Asecond time when Jesus says to us, “I must stay in your house today” is during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which we will celebrate in a few minutes. When the priest speaks those awesome words, “Take this . . . and eat it. This is my body,” Jesus speaks directly and personally to us. In effect, he calls us by name and says, “I must stay in your house today.” Finally, the third time when Jesus says this to us is when we meet a truly needy brother or sister. He himself assures us of this, saying, “[W]henever you did this for one . . . of these . . . you did it for me!” Matthew 25:40 And so the stories of the teenager and of Zacchaeus have an important message for us. Regardless of how good or bad we are, there are times in our lives when Jesus of Nazareth passes by us so closely that we can reach out and touch him. And at these times, Jesus invites us— as he did the teenager and Zacchaeus— to open the door of our heart that he may come in and be our guest. And if we open the door of our heart and say, “Come in, Jesus,” our lives—like those of the teenager and of Zacchaeus—will change forever. And so by way of review, there are three times when Jesus passes by us very closely and says to us, “I must stay in your house today.” The first is when the word of the Lord is read and broken open for us during the Liturgy of the Word. The second is when the Body of the Lord is broken and given to us to eat during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And the third is when a member of the family of the Lord is broken and comes to us for help. This is the good news of today’s Gospel. This is the good news that we celebrate in today’s liturgy. This is the good news that Jesus wants us to carry with us today as we leave this church. Let us close with these beautiful words from the Book of Revelation. Jesus says to each one of us in this church right now: “Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me.” 3:20