In the Footsteps of Zacchaeus: A Homily for November 3, 2019 by Deacon Alan Doty


The Christians in Thessalonica had a special place in Paul’s heart, since they were one of the first communities that Paul had formed when he began preaching in Europe. After only three weeks there he had made so many converts to Christianity that the leaders of the Jewish community organized a violent persecution against him, and he had to be smuggled out of the city in secret to save his life.

Months later, Paul sent his companion Timothy back to Thessalonica to check up on the fledgling community. Timothy brought back good news; the community was still thriving. But some disagreements and misunderstandings needed to be dealt with, and that’s why Paul wrote the two Letters to the Thessalonians.

Today’s reading was from the second of those letters.  We find St. Paul offering up a beautiful prayer. He prays for the church he founded, that God might make them ‘worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfilment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him.’
Our Gospel reading today offers a powerful illustration of what St. Paul meant. In the well-loved story of Zacchaeus, we meet someone who proved worthy of Jesus’ calling him.

Let’s start at the beginning of the story. Like almost everyone in the city of Jericho, Zacchaeus wanted to meet Jesus. Already he and I have something in common – I to want to meet Jesus, to encounter him, and maybe you do as well. I think there is a deep thirst within all of us to meet and know our God. So Zacchaeus made a plan. He knew that Jesus and his followers were going to pass by a certain spot in the road so he ran ahead to meet them.

If you want to encounter Jesus, take a lesson from Zacchaeus. Go to where Jesus is. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near (Isaiah 55). Here at Mass is a good place to meet Jesus. We will encounter him in a few minutes in the Eucharist. You can go to meet with Jesus in our adoration chapel. Many of the saints who have gone before us met Jesus in those places, but also in quiet contemplation- sometimes in the desert, or more often in the peace of the home.

It’s somewhat less likely that you will meet Jesus in the noisy crowd of thoughts and worries that we often travel with. As we saw with Zacchaeus, sometimes the crowd can get in the way, can interfere with your plan to meet Jesus. If you to increase your chances of meeting Jesus, make a plan to get away from the crowd- go climb a tree, or a mountain. Go on a retreat, or set aside some time in your day for quiet prayer. Look for Jesus in your reading of scripture; make that a part of your day. Form a plan to be where Jesus is likely to meet you.

Jesus saw Zacchaeus and called him. It was not that Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus: it was Jesus looking for Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus allowed himself to be found. God is always looking for us.  Sometimes we believe that we’re the ones looking for him, but the only reason we can even look for him is because he’s already looking for us. Jesus did not wait for Zacchaeus to speak- he sought him out and called him by name. Christ also asks us to let ourselves be found by him. He’s always seeking, but, since we’re free, we have to choose to be found.

After Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, he invited himself to his house, telling Zacchaeus “I must stay at your house today”. And how did Zacchaeus respond? If someone important said they were coming to my house, I might think- but the house is a mess! We don’t have any food in the refrigerator! Not Zacchaeus. He didn’t hesitate. He came down quickly and received the Lord with joy. Zacchaeus didn’t say- not today Lord. I have meetings, my kids have soccer, the Patriots are playing. Can you come at a more convenient time? Maybe next Sunday morning I’ll have an hour or so to spend with you.

We to should be ready to respond when Jesus calls our name. Zacchaeus joyfully responded and invited Jesus to his home. In Christ’s presence, full conversion comes. Zacchaeus promises to give away half of everything he has to the poor, and to repay fourfold any injustice he has committed. In Jesus’ company Zacchaeus finds the strength to break with his past.

Joyfully open your house, your life and your heart to the Lord. Put him in first place and the rest of it- your work, your family, your marriage-all of it will be made better. Break with your past sins and welcome the Lord into your heart.

After having listened to this Gospel, consider the opportunity God is offering you, which you must not ignore or postpone. Jesus Christ passes through your life and calls you by name, because he loves you and he wants to save you. As Zacchaeus climbed up that tree to better see Jesus, you can with God’s grace climb above earthly things, elevating your thoughts and your prayers. Jesus will call you by name and invite himself to your house. And may we hear that blessing from the Lord- the one blessing, the only thing that matters- today salvation has come.

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