Services this week:
Wed 2nd November All Souls 10.00am
Thu 3rd November Feria Mass 10.00am
There will be no service on Sunday 6th Nov dur to the new Mission Area rota.
The coffee morning will take place from 10.00am as usual on Tuesday.
Advance notice - the Christmas Fayre will be held at St Andrews Community Centre on Saturday 12th November from 10.00am to 12 noon.
Zacchaeus, one of the characters in today’s gospel, was used to looking up to people. People of my age and older will probably have seen the comedy sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. The three of them were standing side by side in descending or ascending order of height. It was a sketch based on the British class system, where the different characters described which person they looked up to or down upon and the reason why. It’s worth YouTubing it if you haven’t seen it.
Perhaps many people would have looked down on Zacchaeus. This was not because he was poor – far from it. As a senior tax collector he would have taken a lot of money in his time – much of it by stealth. It was really for moral reasons that people would have despised him – working for the Roman occupiers was never a popular choice. We are told that he was small of stature and perhaps this seems symbolic of how people would have viewed him.
When he heard that Jesus was in the area, he wanted to take a closer look, but he was too small to see over the heads of the people in the crowd. So he climbs a sycamore tree. I think I stopped climbing trees after my teenage years and maybe it’s not something that adults normally do. So he must have been determined to see the man who had gained such a reputation. Maybe the leaves of the tree would also have given him some privacy from the prying eyes of the crowd. But if Zacchaeus thought he could remain anonymous, he had a surprise coming when Jesus called to him and asked him to come down. Jesus even said: “Hurry, for I must stay at your house today.”
Many people, then and now, have wanted a closer look at Jesus. Years ago I did the same, in the sense of wanting to see for myself what drew people to him. After reading the Bible and after attending Mass for the first time I came to have the feeling that it wasn’t really I who was in control. Like Zacchaeus and like many others since then, I came to that sense that it was really Jesus who was seeking out me. No longer was it about taking a look from a distance, but was instead a deeply personal encounter. As Zacchaeus found, there is nothing more personal than someone inviting themselves to your home. As Christians we find that we don’t relate to Jesus at a distance. We come to know him as a friend. The relationship is not abstract or academic, but he speaks to our hearts.
We get the sense from the gospel passage that not everyone shared the obvious excitement and joy that Zacchaeus felt. Those who prided themselves on their own righteousness were looking down at him. It’s rather like the attitude of the Pharisee in the Temple in the gospel from last week, looking down upon the tax collector and judging him as a sinner. It seems that Jesus looks beyond the sin and sees instead the real person, with all their potential and all their longing. For once, Zacchaeus felt acceptance, understanding and unconditional love. His life seemed to change from that moment on and he resolved to make amends for all that he had done in the past. In fact he goes as far as repaying the people from whom he had extorted money by four times the amount. Compassion and friendship achieve so much more than judgement and condemnation.
No doubt many of the people in the crowd would have been shocked at Jesus for seeking out a man like this. They would have been appalled by his statement that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus and that he too was a son of Abraham. We see in Jesus someone who had come to seek out the lost and to restore their relationship with God. This may not be welcome news for the self-righteous, but for everyone else it is surely music to their ears. We need no longer be limited and defined by our past, because we have been offered a new beginning. Even if other people might sometimes look down on us, Jesus looks down upon no one. Nor does he expect us to get a crick in our neck by looking up at him, because instead of calling us servants, he calls us friends.
The book of Wisdom today reminds us of how God sees the true value in every person of his creation and that his imperishable spirit is given to us all. St Paul reminds us also in the second letter to the Thessalonians that the grace of God in us brings to completion in us all the good that we long for, and that in our lives Jesus himself is glorified. In our baptism we receive that imperishable Spirit of God and we are recognised as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. By his grace, freely given, our past is redeemed and we come to live once again in newness of life.