31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Lk 19, 1-10 – October 30th, 2022
Dear brothers and sisters, today, the Church presents us with images of God’s mercy and what we must do to receive it. So, we can consider two points: first, which is the mercy of God, and second, what we have to do to receive it. What is mercy, and what do we have to do to receive it.
The first reading gives us a synthesis of mercy. Let’s listen again to what the author says beautifully about God: “You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” There are two things here: first, we have the relationship between God’s power and His mercy, and, second, the connection between mercy and sins.
First, the author makes a connection between God’s power and His mercy. Sometimes we think that having mercy or being merciful is a weakness: quite the opposite. Mercy is the highest manifestation of the power of God, as the great theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas said: “God’s omnipotence manifests itself in the highest degree by forgiving and having mercy, because the way to show that God has the supreme power is forgiving sins freely. . . . The effect of divine mercy is the foundation of all divine works, since nothing is due to any being except by reason of what God gives him without owing him. In this the divine omnipotence is manifested to a great degree.” Similarly, when we forgive or have mercy, we perform an act of spiritual strength that is able to free us from the sins we have committed and also achieve mercy for others. Here is the deep meaning of “Blessed are the merciful, because they will attain mercy.”
In this first reading, we also have the connection between mercy and sins. The author says: “You overlook people’s sins that they may repent,” and then it goes on: “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls. . . . Therefore 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!” In other words, God’s mercy is manifested precisely in the forgiveness of sins. If there is no sin and misery, there is no mercy. As Jesus says, “The healthy do not need a doctor, but those who are sick.” So, God’s mercy does not consist in denying that there is sin, or saying that what is sin is not, but in being patient and giving everyone the opportunity to repent.
However, forgiveness is an opportunity: we have to take advantage of this opportunity. As St. Augustine said, “God, who created you without you, will not save you without you.” God has given us the freedom to accept or reject His Mercy. Then, we reach our second point: what we have to do to receive mercy.
In the gospel we hear the story of Zacchaeus, the publican, hated by his people, who attains salvation after having spoken with Christ.
The gospel tells us about three actions of Zacchaeus that we must imitate to achieve mercy. First, Zacchaeus ” was seeking to see who Jesus was,” second, he climbed the tree, and, third, respond to Jesus’ invitation. So then, we have him seeking, climbing, and responding.
It is interesting what Luke writes: Zacchaeus ” was seeking to see who Jesus was”, that is, he didn’t simply want to see Jesus, like so many others there or as King Herod, but really wanted to know him. It is impossible to receive the mercy of God if we do not know God, or if we do not want to know Him. We have to have a great desire to know Jesus.
On the other hand, Zacchaeus well knew that there was another element, another factor, that prevented him from knowing him, and that was his height. He was short. We also have to know, not only to God, but also to ourselves and our defects, the things that do not let us approach God and ask for his mercy. If Zacchaeus had not realized his short stature, he would never have done anything to overcome it.
So what did Zacchaeus do to overcome the impediment? He climbed a tree, leaving the town and probably his things down below to be able to climb more easily.
Imagine the city of Jericho, waiting for the coming of Christ. It was a very important city, a business city, so there were always a lot of people and noise, the cries of animals and what they sell things. Already with the coming of Christ, there were even more people on the streets, without organization, without order.
Leaving all this down below, Zacchaeus climbs a tree. It seems a bit ridiculous: we have short fat a man climbing a tree. However, Zacchaeus didn’t care about ridicule or what others thought: what mattered to him was knowing Jesus.
These two elements have to be repeated in our lives. On the one hand, we have to leave the noise of the world and of everyday life, of the latest technology and news that only serve to make us more and more anxious and worried about the future. We must rise above the anxieties and daily worries, leaving our vices and sins, to focus on the only thing necessary. On the other hand, to receive mercy it is necessary to be humble, to humble ourselves before Christ in the confessional or before our friends or family asking for forgiveness for what we have done. Without humility, there is no true mercy. We must rise above our pride, in order to overcome it completely in Christ.
Finally, Jesus approached Zacchaeus, and was invited to stay in his house. Zacchaeus’ answer is not simply a “Yes, you can come” but actions that correspond to the mercy of the invitation to salvation: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” Mercy is accepted and shown by actions rather than just in words.
And Jesus replies to such a great desire in his heart, saying, ” 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 to save what was lost.” So, today we ask ourselves, do I really want to know Christ? What have I done to know myself and my defects? What have I done to leave my vices and attachments, and to rise above the news, anxieties, and pride? Have I have lowered myself enough to ask forgiveness in the confessional and my brothers? How have I responded to the mercy I have received?
Let us ask, then, through the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Mother of Mercy, for the grace to know ourselves and Christ, to be humble, and to act with mercy, in order to receive the mercy that God wants to grant us.