November 3, 2019 – 31st Sunday
Readings: Wisdom 11: 22-12:2; Psalm 145, Response: I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.; 2 Thessalonians 1: 11-2:2
Gospel: Luke 19: 1-10
One of the major themes of my last annual retreat was seeing in the story of my journey how my failures led to greater freedom.
Since fourth year high school, I was active in the student government. But in my senior year in college, I lost in the student council elections. This failure led to my life mission.
That year in college I rediscovered prayer and spirituality, the start of my love for and devotion to the Mass.
Long story short, this grace was instrumental in my discovering my mission to teach, a passion that remains my first love.
Teaching, in turn, led me to become a priest and a Jesuit. Along the way, a detour came in the form of administration work and, in my last assignment as a Jesuit, fundraising.
By choice, on the one hand, and due to circumstances beyond my control, on the other hand, I “threw in the towel” in this field to go back to teaching.
In these major shifts in my journey, these “failures” gave me the freedom to make choices that I had discerned as more aligned with what God wanted me to do.
This is a snapshot of my journey, where my failures led me to greater freedom to choose to follow God’s mission more faithfully. From failure to freedom—it’s the same pattern of Zacchaeus’ story in this Sunday’s Gospel.
Zacchaeus had handicaps, which would have made him a failure. He was physically short, and his profession, a chief tax collector, was despised. One by one, though, these two handicaps led him to freedom.
From handicap to advantage
Being short in stature, he had to climb a tree to get a good view of Christ. This earns him not just Christ’s attention, but the honor to have Christ as a guest in his house.
It was not just a shift from handicap to advantage, but we begin to see the deeper journey to freedom: “He came down quickly and received him with joy.” (Luke 19: 6)
Then his other handicap kicks in. People are scandalized that Christ enters the house of this chief tax collector, a sinner. To this, Zacchaeus stands his ground and his freedom further deepens.
Zacchaeus’ transformation becomes expressed in deeds. Faced with intense criticism and character assassination, he responds and tells Christ: “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.” (Luke 19: 8)
This simple act embodies two graces. One, Zacchaeus shows remorse and detachment. The former leads to the latter, as he is willing to let go of his wealth.
Then comes the deepest freedom for Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a descendant of Abraham.” (Luke 19: 9)
He earns the singular grace of Christ’s coming as man to be God-with-us, his mission to save us.
From handicap to blessing, from failure to freedom, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” (Portuguese proverb)
This Sunday’s Gospel gives us hope and encouragement that, in the midst of our failures, setbacks, handicaps, imperfections, indeed, our sinfulness, God’s grace is lovingly and providentially present.
If we allow him, all these seeming tragic flaws or tragedies in our life become God’s channels of grace: from failure to greater freedom, from setback to breakthrough, from handicap to advantage, from imperfection to faith in God’s perfect love, from sinfulness to hope in God’s merciful and forgiving love.
It brings us back to a core truth and grace of our Christian faith: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19: 10)
Like Zacchaeus, our journeys are inspired by this one deepest desire, to see and to encounter Christ, and allowing him to enter our heart and soul. —CONTRIBUTED