This week’s readings give us hope.  In the Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is passing through Jericho.  But a man named Zaccaeus, a tax collector wants to see Jesus.  He’s a short man and can’t see over the crowds, so he climbs a tree.  Jesus sees Zaccaeus and calls out to him.  “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” The very first sentence tells us that He has no intention of stopping but the sight of a man in a tree, just wanting to catch a glimpse of Him moves Him to stay overnight.

 

It’s important for us to remember that, as much as we don’t like tax collectors in the 21st Century, in Jesus’ time tax collectors were hated and despised.  These men are Jews and they’re working for the Romans.  Not only that, but tax collectors became rich by overcharging their fellow Jews and keeping the difference.

 

When the crowd realized what was happening, they said “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”  A good friend of mine who just passed away last week was retired from the IRS.  So is his wife.  Nobody would look at either one of them and assume they were sinners.  They were just ordinary, good people doing their jobs, doing good works, and going to mass every Sunday.

 

Zacchaeus was definitely a sinner and everyone knew it.  But seeing Jesus has changed him.  He promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back anyone whom he has extorted not just what he’s taken, but four times what he’s taken.  Jesus responds “Today salvation has come to this house……For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what is lost.”

 

Jesus words remind us that there’s hope for all of us.  If He saves a notorious sinner like Zacchaeus, He’ll definitely save you and me.  But there is a catch.  The tax collector recognized the error of his ways and repented.  If he had just kept on doing what he was doing, there was no hope for him.  If you and I continue to sin, without repentance, there’s no hope for us either.

 

If we go back to the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we see the Old Testament version of the same line of thought.  “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.  For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated you would not have fashioned.”  And that includes you and me.

 

God is love!  We know that.  He loves sinners and he loves saints.  We just celebrated All Saints Day.  You can’t throw a rock in this church without hitting a saint’s statue.  They’re a constant reminder for us.  But what do they remind us of?  Of course they remind us that we’re called to live virtuous lives.  But we should also remember that these saints weren’t perfect.  Far from it.  There’s only been one human being who never sinned and that’s the Blessed Virgin.  Cyril, Methodius, Elizabeth, and Wenceslas all sinned and they’re still recognized as saints of the church.  Why?  Because, in spite of their sinfulness, which they inherited from Adam and Eve, just as we all did, they lived virtuous lives.  They confessed their sins.  They did their best not to sin again.  But they did sin again and they confessed again.  They struggled against the evil one just like you and I do every day.

 

There are two kings represented in our chapel, Louis IX and Wenceslas.  Imagine having all that wealth and power.  They ruled great kingdoms.  They were in control of everything in their kingdoms.  The temptation for them to sin must have been overwhelming.  But they resisted the works of the evil one and lived virtuous lives.  Can you think of even one world leader today who might some day be declared a saint?

 

Here’s the thing.  God created all of us.  We’re all unique.  There never has been and never will be another person on this earth exactly like you or exactly like me.  We study the lives of the saints for inspiration, but we’re not called to be them.  Each of these great saints has already lived and died.  God made each of us for a reason.  “He loves all things that are.”  Whatever our station in life, all He wants from us is to be the best person we can be.  There’s already been a Saint Prokopius.  If we try to be him, we’ll fail.  But if we try to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, we will succeed with God’s help.

 

The tax collector gave half of everything he had to the poor.  That was his thing.  Is that your thing?  I don’t know, but probably not.

 

Saint John Nepomuk was a martyr.  That was what he was called to do.  Does God want us to be martyrs?  Again, probably not.  But if we get into a situation where that’s what’s called for, are we ready to give our lives for our faith?  I can’t answer that question.  I don’t know.

 

Saint Maximillion Kolbe felt that he was called to be a martyr all of his life.  In the end, he became one.  Frankly, I don’t feel that call and I hope I never do because I don’t know if I could do it.  But there are people, even today, especially in third-world countries who are dying a martyr’s death.  There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the first 19 centuries combined.

 

I started by saying that today’s readings give us hope.  And they do.  Jesus saved the tax collector, a notorious sinner.  That means we can be saved too.  When we stand before Jesus, He’s not going to compare us to anyone else.  He’s not going to say “you didn’t go to India and take care of the poor like Mother Teresa.”  He’s not going to condemn us because we didn’t give half of everything we own to the poor.

 

He’s going to look at the gifts we’ve been given and He’s going to ask us if we did the best we could with them.  Did we help the poor to the best of our ability?  Did we give some of our time to help others?  Did we share our faith with others?  Did we speak out against injustice?  And most of all, did we regularly confess our sins and do our best not to repeat them.

 

We have hope because we all have the ability to be our best.  That’s what God wants and we can all do it.

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