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SUNDAY SCRIPTURES FOR OCTOBER 30 | Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is a story of hope for us sinners

It’s time for us to come down from our trees, meet Jesus face-to-face and experience His unconditional love for us

The Gospel of Luke, which we have been reading all through this liturgical year, is filled with familiar Scripture stories. The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time contains one of those: the story of a very short tax collector who wanted to see Jesus but needed to climb a tree to be able to do that. We don’t know his motivations, but we do know that part of it was that he was short in stature and he was afraid of being lost in the crowd. There probably is more to it than just his height. Because he was a tax collector, he probably took more than what was supposed to be collected. He probably took some for the Romans and some for himself. He probably wouldn’t want to step into the crowd out of fear for his physical well-being. And so he ascended the tree. It’s pretty clear that he hoped to go unnoticed — he wanted to see Jesus but not the scene.

Jesus noticed him in the tree and called him down. Instead of letting Zacchaeus hide in his shame, Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house. That invitation would’ve been stunning for those who had been cheated by Zacchaeus. A good religious person would not enter the house of a public sinner, nor eat at the table with that person, who would be considered unclean. The encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus became a source of hope for all of us who are sinners. Jesus noticed him.

How many of you would consider yourself to be a sinner? How many of you have struggled with the shame attached to that sin and wondered what God’s attitude is toward you? How many of you climb your figurative tree so that you can see Jesus, but you don’t want Jesus to see who you really are?

Many of us participate in Mass but carry the shame of our sins and don’t know what to do about that. We ask for mercy at the beginning of Mass, but there remains a residue of shame and guilt. We know the automatic answer to that — the sacrament of reconciliation — but so many of us are afraid to do that.

Priests are meant to be transparent instruments of God’s forgiveness, healing and mercy. Some of us may be afraid to approach the confessional because we are afraid that we will shock the priest. Be assured that we are ready and willing to hear whatever you have to say and to place that in the heart of Jesus so you can be touched by God’s mercy.

I appeal to all priests to put on the mind and heart of Jesus as we sit in our confessionals so that all penitents experience Jesus’ unconditional love for each of our brothers and sisters. We as priests are aware of our own sinfulness and our need for reconciliation. Let us extend that same understanding and compassion to others as we wish God to give to us.

It is time for us to come down from our sycamore trees, stop just observing Jesus from a distance, meet Him face-to-face and experience His unconditional and unending love for us. We can then share the freedom we experience in God’s mercy with others who still are climbing their trees and hiding from Jesus.

Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.

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