The common theme of today’s readings is God’s benevolent and forgiving mercy for sinners and the response of repentance and conversion expected from us.
Messages of Mercy
The first reading reminds us that God, who created the universe with His wise and loving concern, waits with the same concern for sinners to repent. He “rebukes the offenders little by little,” “warns them of their sins,” and reminds them to “abandon their wickedness.” The reading focuses on the love God has for all. He has created love that overlooks sin and gives time for repentance.
In the second reading, St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to persevere in their Christian faith, giving glory to God without idly waiting for the “second coming” of Christ in their lifetime.
Today’s gospel presents the beautiful story of the instantaneous conversion of the tax-collector Zacchaeus. The account describes how Jesus recognized Zacchaeus for exactly what he was, a lost sinner in need of a Savior, and how God’s grace worked in Zacchaeus to lead him from idle curiosity to repentance, conversion, and restitution. The episode emphasizes the fact that such a conversion can only result from a person’s fully receiving the love, acceptance, and grace of a merciful Lord.
Overcoming Obsticles to Mercy
First of all, we need to accept the divine invitation for repentance. To refuse to admit that we are sinners is a fundamental impediment to the working of the mercy and grace of God in our hearts.
A second and common impediment is to refuse to listen to the call to repentance which God frequently sends out to us. We are all sinners to a greater or lesser degree. Jesus is inviting each of us to total conversion today through this gospel lesson. Jesus is our loving brother who died so that we might live. He is the Son of God, a God of infinite love. Hence, let us expose and confess to him all our weaknesses and injustices.
Remember that Jesus loves us despite our ugly thoughts, broken promises, sullied ideals, lack of prayer and faith, resentments, and lusts. He will put us back on the straight road to heaven. We will become again true “sons and daughters of Abraham.”
The second thing we should strive to do is love others as Jesus loves us despite our sins.
Jesus loved Zacchaeus – the greatest of sinners – and Zacchaeus was transformed by that love. How many parents and teachers can lovingly accept children without first setting up standards of behavior as conditions for being loved?
Sometimes we have the temptation to withhold love from people we consider sinners. For example, a husband and wife may have qualities that grate on each other, prompting one spouse to withhold love from the other. There may be a temptation to withhold one’s love from a rebellious teenager. Perhaps our children make choices that disappoint us, and we become so frustrated by the consequences of their poor decisions that we withhold our love from them. Our boss may be unlovable and autocratic, or our neighbor may become an object of hatred because of his incessantly barking dog.
But just as Jesus loved Zacchaeus even though he was the worst of sinners, we must love others despite their sins. Jesus expects this of us.
Being Generous with Mercy
Thirdly, we are called to generosity: Zacchaeus was changed from being greedy to being generous, from selfishness to selflessness. There was a change deep within his heart.
God wants us to be financially and spiritually generous. Jesus wants us to move from our small and feeble faith to greater and more powerful faith, just as Zacchaeus did.
When we feel the warmth of God’s presence within us, that warmth will melt our coldness and selfishness and lead us to repentance and generosity.
Welcoming Jesus Into Our Lives
Fourthly, how would we respond to Jesus’ demand, “I must stay at your house today”? How would we react to such an invitation? Would we be ready to welcome Jesus into our home?
Indeed, Jesus has visited the homes of each one of us. Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, we have received the indwelling Spirit of Christ within us. Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we receive the Divine Presence of the Lord.
Besides, “If we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us” (1 Jn. 4:13). Hence, let us be thankful to the Lord for coming to us.
For those who have not yet received the Lord into our homes and lives, it is never too late to repent and welcome Him. Our Lord is a God of love, grace, and mercy. He does not wish to see anyone lost. If we allow Jesus to enter our lives, our lives will change. Grace is the driving power behind this transformation.
As we continue celebrating the Holy Mass, let us pray for all of us who do not yet have the indwelling of the Lord God in our homes and lives. Let us ask the Lord to reach out to us as he reached out to Zacchaeus. The result will be repentance, transformation, sanctification, and salvation.
Love and Peace,
We are called to be good stewards of our personal vocations. St. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians is therefore ours, too – “that our God may make (us) worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.”