The Tax Collector in the Tree

Looking  back, it’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted.  But it seems I’ve developed arthritis in my hands and it’s very hard for me to type.  But I did preach this weekend so here’s my homily for the 31st Sunday of ordinary time.  I hope you enjoy it.  Meanwhile I’m looking into voice recognition software so I can type without using my hands.

“Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew upon the earth”.  But we have this all-powerful, all-knowing God who takes the time to care for each of us.  The Wisdom writer tells us that God overlooks our sins so we can repent.

 

Because, as we heard in the first reading, He loves all things that are and loathes nothing that He has made.  See, God doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need you. But He made us and so He loves us. If He didn’t love us, why would He have made us? “ His imperishable spirit is in all things.”

 

And, here’s the best part of the first reading, “You rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”

 

That’s why we come to mass every week.  God has prepared this handbook for us to remind us, to warn us, of the sins we are committing and to give us a chance to repent.  That’s a loving God. He doesn’t just give us the punishment we deserve, He gives us a way out. A “get out of jail free card” that we call the sacrament of reconciliation.

 

Then, at every mass God provides us with readings that rebuke us “little by little.”

 

Today’’s Gospel is a good example. 

Jesus in on the way to Jerusalem.  He passes through Jericho. Now Jericho isn’t just some backwater town.  It’s the oldest city in the world dating back to 8,000 BC. and it’s fairly big.  Luke tells us that there’s a man, Zacchaeus, who wants to see Jesus. Here’s the thing about Zacchaeus.  He’s a tax collector. And not just any tax collector, he’s the head tax collector. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for the Romans.  They were basically enemies of the Jewish people. The way the system worked, the tax collector would come to your house and take whatever he could.  Then he would send what was actually owed on to Rome and keep the rest for himself. Tax collector didn’t have a lot of friends. And this guy wasn’t just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill tax collector, he was the head guy, a real favorite of the Romans.

 

Zacchaeus was also short.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that,  but he couldn’t get close to Jesus because he had no friends to help him and he couldn’t see over the crowd because he was vertically challenged.  So he had an idea. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree.  

 

The sycamore is a type of fig tree. It has large leaves.  In fact scholars believe the sycamore was the source for Adam and Eve’s fig leaves.  So, there’s a bit of historical significance to Zacchaeus hiding in this particular tree.  Adam and Eve hid themselves behind sycamore leaves and Zacchaeus hid in the sycamore tree.

 

So Zacchaeus is up in the tree and Jesus walks by.  He says “Zacchais, come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.”  Notice two things here.  First Jesus calls Zacchais by name.  Remember in the first reading from the book of Wisdom the writer tells us that to God, the whole universe is like a drop of dew.  Now, here’s Jesus recognizing Zacchaeus and calling him by name. He recognizes him just like He recognizes you and me. Don’t ever think that the Lord doesn’t take an interest in our lives.  He knows every single one of us and He knows everything we do.

 

Next, notice that Luke’s Gospel tells us at the very beginning of this passage that Jesus intended to pass through Jericho.  Now he’s telling Zacchaeus that He plans to spend the night. What’s up with that? Jesus sees this as a teaching moment. First then Zacchaeus says, “I’m going to give half of my possessions to the poor and, if I’ve cheated anyone (which we know he has) I’m going to pay them back fourfold.  It’s a win-win.  

 

Finally Jesus tells Zacchaeus, and the Pharisees, and you and me, “today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a descendant of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what is lost.

 

It’s easy for us to feel like we’re not important or that God is so huge that he doesn’t have time for us.  But it’s just not true. God has a plan and we’re all part of it. We may not know or understand it, but it’s there.  Sometimes good things happen to us. Sometimes bad things happen to us. Sometimes we find ourselves asking, “Why me, Lord.”  Maybe a better question is “Why not me, Lord.”

The little tax collector, a man with no friends, became a lesson for millions of Christians.  You just never know how God is going to use us to benefit others.

 

4th Sunday of Easter—Mothers

This weekend’s homily:

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices.” They hung on every word that He said.

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

We’re living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His.

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus.  They can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

 

I have to close by mentioning another voice that we all recognize and that we celebrate today (tomorrow) and that’s our mother.  Jesus set the example for us in the relationship he had from the time He chose her to bear Him in her womb until He hung on the cross and gave her to Saint John and to us.  “Son, behold your mother.”

 

On this Mothers Day we honor our mothers, living and dead and thank God for the gift of them in our lives.  Let us also honor Jesus’ mother by praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

 

 

Happy Mothers Day!

 

Times Square Rally

 

There was a big pro-life rally Sunday in Times Square in New York.  You probably aren’t aware of it because the main stream media couldn’t be bothered to cover it.  But my friend Carolyn covered it quite well in her blog and I’m sharing her post here because I think you should be aware of this event.

Caralyn also includes a video by Rep. Brian Sims.  Please watch it.  If this is the kind of person we’re electing to office, I’m afraid we’re doomed.  This guy is an embarrassment.

5th Sunday of Lent

In the New American Bible, which is the Bible from which we get our Lectionary, today’s Gospel, Chapter 8 verses 1-11 is called “A woman caught in adultery.”  Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and our good friends, the scribes and the Pharisees show up dragging a woman who they have caught committing adultery. This incident raises a very real question.  Where is the man? They say she was caught “in the very act of adultery” but somehow they couldn’t find the man who was also participating; who was just as guilty. Obviously this is a test.

 

We’ve heard the story many times.  The punishment for adultery is stoning and Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  What we don’t often hear is that no sooner had he said it than a rock came flying in from behind Jesus and hit the woman in the chest.  Thunk! Jesus turned around and looked and said, “Aw, Mom.”

 

Now, you may not like that joke.  Maybe you think humor has no place in religion.    But every time I look in the mirror and see myself looking back wearing s Roman collar, I know that God has a sense of humor.  It’s hard to imagine that someone who hung out with twelve other guys, and could turn water into wine, didn’t enjoy a good joke.

 

I spent seven years at Saint John Neopmuk Church in Soulard.  If I’d told that joke in a homily the Archbishop would have gotten letters (to go along with all the other letters he got about me.)  But the Czech culture is very serious. When they sing the Gloria in Czech, you’d swear you were at a funeral. But that’s just the way they are.  It took me a while to figure it out.

 

I think we’ve all heard this Gospel enough times that I can’t really add much to it, so I’m going to talk about what you just sang, the Responsorial Psalm.  We don’t preach on the Responsorial Psalm very often, but I think today, as we get ready to wrap up Lent, it might be a good time.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with rejoicing.

 

I think Father will agree with me that it’s not always easy to get Catholics to rejoice.  We don’t usually seem to be filled with joy. But, why the heck not? The Lord has done great things for us.  We’re alive and we’re living in the greatest country on earth.  You may or may not know that I just got back from a cruise to the Caribbean.  Every American should make a trip like that one time. When you see the poverty that exists just a few hundred miles from our shores you want to get down on your knees and thank God for what we have.  They may have beautiful weather but they don’t have much else. And they don’t show the tourists the really bad stuff.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

This is the front page from today’s (yesterday’s) paper. ( I held up the front page of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, which is copyrighted.  If you want to see it, you can look it up.) It’s a picture of Ozzie Smith waving to the crowd on opening day at Busch Stadium.  The headline reads:  “It’s a Holy Day of Obligation.”  Obviously, the headline writer hasn’t been inside a Catholic Church for a while.  It doesn’t look like this picture, either in the size or in the enthusiasm of the crowd on a Holy Day, or even on Sunday.;

 

Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.

 

Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.

 

Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

 

[pause]

 

I want to close by looking back on the first reading from the book of Isiah.  Quoting God, Isiah says,
See I am doing something new.  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself that they might announce my praise.”

 

We weren’t created to be gloomy and sad.  We were created to announce God’s praise so others could see us and want what we have.  We sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “hallowed be thy name” and give Him praise. The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.

 

The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 2

“Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?”  What a great line!  It’s right in the middle of Chapter 2 (verse 10).  If we’re looking for a subject for medication, I think this verse is it.

There’s a lot more to this chapter, eighteen verses in fact.  But I’m going to leave you with just this one to think about.  If you’re hungry for more, here’s a link to the entire chapter.

The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 1

Thanks  for joining me today as we begin to explore the Book of Sirach, or the Wisdom of Sirach as it was once called.  The book begins with “Praise of Wisdom.”  Sirach tells us that “all wisdom comes from the Lord and with Him it remains forever.”

Wisdom was the first creation.  “To whom has wisdom’s root been revealed?”  The answer is pretty obvious..  “There is but one, wise and truly awe-inspiring, seated upon His throne;  It is the Lord; He created her, has seen her, and has taken note of her.”

Moving on to verse 12, we read that “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, which is formed with the faithful in the womb.”  That certainly puts a different spin on the abortion debate, doesn’t it?  Wisdom is formed in the womb.

I’m going to stop there and suggest that you read the rest of Chapter 1 on your own.  Either find your Bible, or here’s a link to the USCCB page.  Either way, I think you’ll find plenty to think about without my commentary.  In fact, as we dig further into this amazing book, some days you won’t find any commentary at all, just Sirach’s words.

Please feel free to add your own comments below.

Ash Wednesday

Well,  here it is Ash Wednesday.  The warm-up to Lent.  I’ve never been quite sure about this, but in 2019, counting today, there are there are forty four days until Holy Thursday, the official end of Lent.  So where do we get forty days?  I’ve decided at this point to just stop worrying about it and accept it for what it is.

Anyway, I’ve decided this year to read the book of Sirach during Lent.  It works out nicely as there are 52 pages of Sirach in my Bible or just over 1.1 pages per day.  I chose Sirach because it is one of the most practical books in the Old Testament.  Originally called The Wisdom of Sirach,iIt’s full of good advice on how to live your life.  If you follow Sirach’s teaching you will be a better person for it.

The book was actually written by Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach.  (Yes, people in Old Testament times did name their kids Jesus, just as they do in Latin American countries today.)

The book was written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 BC.  It was translated into Greek sometime after 132 BC by the author’s grandson who included his own forward.

Sirach is not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first Century AD or in protestant Bibles, which is too bad.  The Catholic Church uses this book often in its Liturgy.

As Lent goes by, I will share parts of Sirach with you along with my thoughts.

Have a blessed Lent!