Ordinary Time 31, Year C

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When he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!” shining with joy for their Maker (Bar. 3:35)

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” warned Jesus (cf. Lk. 18:24-27, Mt. 19:23-26 and Mk. 10:23-27). Those who heard him, including his disciples, wondered out loud, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus’ saying apparently gave them reason to fear for their salvation.

One’s concern for salvation can become anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, may lead one to believe that he is assured of salvation so long as he observes the commandments and comply with their demands, not compromising them or letting them be compromised in any way. And before one knows it, one has put his confidence in flesh—the confidence Paul repudiated as loss and rubbish but to which he affirmed he had a claim because he was circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee, in zeal he persecuted the church, and in righteousness based on the law he was without blame (cf. Phil. 3:1-7). Such confidence—born of anxiety, I gather from Rom. 7—can get to be dead serious, humorless and unbearable, intolerant, violent and deadly, and all in the name of religion (cf. Jn. 16:2; Acts 6:8-8:3; 9:1-2).

But there is no reason really to be anxious, for Jesus has assured us, “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” There is also his assurance that his yoke is easy and his burden light (Mt. 11:28-30). Such assurances should help me attain lightness and avoid the gravitas that can easily give rise to the kind of somber melancholy and deep despondency that, according to John Donne and to Johans Huizinga much later, weighed on people’s souls on the eve of the Reformation. Assured by Jesus of God's providence, I will know the kind of peace and gentleness St. Vincent de Paul knew.

And illustrating the truth of Jesus’ assurances is, without doubt, Zacchaeus. Making possible what is humanly impossible, God brought salvation to Zacchaeus’ house, even though Zacchaeus was, first, a reputed public sinner because, as a tax collector, he collaborated with Rome and extorted money from his fellow Jews on behalf of the hated occupying power, and, second, as a wealthy man, his entry into the kingdom of God was seriously in doubt.

Salvation became possible, indeed, through Jesus. The Son of Man’s mission to seek and save the lost made it necessary for him to stay that very same day in Zacchaeus’ house. And if the chief tax collector was light enough to have been able to run ahead and climb a sycamore tree—without regard to any self-respect or the thought his becoming the butt of jokes—in order to see Jesus, he was agile too in responding to Jesus’ call and lighthearted in receiving him. And lest there be any doubt about the genuineness and effectiveness of his conversion and about his putting his confidence and justification more in Jesus than in his wealth or any human works, Zacchaeus said to Jesus: “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.”

The converted Zacchaeus showed clearly he had faith and was therefore a true son of Abraham, the father of believers. His readiness to share half of his assets to the poor was an indication that he would not be identified either with the rich fool of Lk. 12:16-21, who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God, or the nameless rich man of Lk. 16:19-31, who ended up so far away from Abraham. Moreover, Zacchaeus’ fourfold restitution to anyone he had robbed was a measure of the depth of his repentance and of the width of his openness to the divine warning that he abandon wickedness and believe in the Lord. God surely made the tax collector worthy of divine calling and brought to fulfillment the wealthy man’s good purpose and effort of faith.

A camel, by God’s power, passed through the eye of a needle in joy. By God’s power, too, what today’s Zacchaeuses share—even if it is not good for so many in need—will be multiplied and distributed for everyone’s satisfaction, once Jesus takes it, looks up to heaven, says the blessing and breaks it and hands it to the disciples.