Sunday Sermon for November 3, 2013, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C

Readings: Wis 1:2-12:2; 2Th 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
In the second reading today St. Paul prays that God would make the Thessalonians worthy of their calling. This worthiness, however, is not merely a matter of the people being made somehow acceptable in themselves; rather, St. Paul says that if someone is worthy, the Name of Jesus will be glorified in that person. So often we tend to look at this point from a subjective perspective. This is only natural, but it is augmented by the fact that we acknowledge our unworthiness to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. I wonder if anyone has ever understood the point as being more about Jesus than it is about our own self.

There is no doubt that it is a statement about our personal disposition and, while we are referring the matter to God to rectify the situation, I suspect that the deeper point is most often missed. That point is that being made worthy by God to receive His Son in the Eucharist, we are being made able to love Jesus and receive His love. In other words, He is glorifying us in making us worthy of His call, but that simultaneously makes us able to glorify Him through this same calling.

If we look at the Gospel reading today we hear about the call of Zacchaeus, a tax collector and a man known to the people as quite a sinner. From the crowd our Lord singles Him out to enter his house and remain there. Before saying anything else, we need to put all of this in a context. First of all, in St. John’s Gospel Andrew and Philip, disciples of St. John the Baptist, come to Jesus and ask the question “Where do you remain?” He answers “Come and see.” It is not until the fourteenth chapter that we find the answer when Jesus says that anyone who loves Him, the Father will love that person and He and the Father will come to that person and tabernacle (pitch their tent) in that person. In other words, He remains within us if we truly love Him.

We must also be reminded that the words we speak right before receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” are the words of the Centurion when the Lord shows Himself willing to come to the man’s home. For us, it is not that He wants to come to our home; instead, He wants us to be His home. We are now the Temple of the Lord, the place where He dwells. So, He has called us as He called Zaccheaus, but the call He has given to us is exceedingly more intimate and profound.

This being the case, we come back to Zacchaeus about whom the people grumble because of his unworthiness to receive such a Guest. Zaccheaus, recognizing the dignity of the Guest and the calling on one hand and his own unworthiness on the other hand, states his intention to amend his life by repaying anyone whom he has defrauded in his work and to give alms to the poor. Jesus declares that salvation had come to that man’s house on that day. The Savior Himself came to Zaccheaus’ home, but Zaccheaus opened the door of his heart, not merely the door of his house, to receive the Savior.

If this was the case for someone like Zacchaeus who could receive the Lord and feed Him an earthly meal, how much more is it for us who receive the Lord Who feeds us with the banquet from Heaven? If we put ourselves in to the position of Zacchaeus for a moment, that is, if we were singled out by the Lord at Mass as the person to whom He wished to give Himself, what would the other people say? Would they say “good choice Lord; there is no one better or holier in the parish.” Or would they grumble like the people of Zacchaeus’ day because they all know that we are sinners?

The fact is that the Lord chose Zacchaeus because He was a sinner. That calling became Zacchaeus’ salvation. Our Lord chose us also because we are sinners. Has it become our salvation? Zacchaeus glorified God when he was called and, assuming that he followed through with his promises and continued in that lifestyle until the end, he continued to glorify the Lord for the rest of his life. Certainly God was glorified on the day we were baptized, but has He been being glorified in us since then? Thankfully, as we read in the first reading, God has mercy on all and overlooks our sins so that we can repent. It also says that He spares us because He is a lover of souls. Being called, chosen, and spared, our response must be to glorify God.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit