Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Sardis: Known biblically as the home of the church that received the fifth of letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Sardis was the capital of the Lydian empire and one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. Located on the banks of the Pactolus River, Sardis was 60 miles inland from Ephesus and Smyrna. The city was home to the famous bishop Melito in the 2nd century.
Reading 1 RV 3:1-6, 14-22
“To the angel of the Church in Sardis, write this:“‘The one who has the seven spirits of God
and the seven stars says this: “I know your works,
that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die,
for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent.
If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief,
and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you.
However, you have a few people in Sardis
who have not soiled their garments;
they will walk with me dressed in white,
because they are worthy.“‘The victor will thus be dressed in white,
and I will never erase his name from the book of life
but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father
and of his angels.“‘Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
“To the angel of the Church in Laodicea, write this:
“‘The Amen, the faithful and true witness,
the source of God’s creation, says this:
“I know your works;
I know that you are neither cold nor hot.
I wish you were either cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out of my mouth.
For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’
and yet do not realize that you are wretched,
pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich,
and white garments to put on
so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed,
and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
“‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
then I will enter his house and dine with him,
and he with me.
I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne,
as I myself first won the victory
and sit with my Father on his throne.
“‘Whoever has ears ought to hear
what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Responsorial PsalmPS 15:2-3A, 3BC-4AB, 5
He who walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
By whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things
shall never be disturbed.
R. I will seat the victor beside me on my throne.
Alleluia1 JN 4:10B
God loved us, and sent his Son
as expiation for our sins.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Going to any length to get it? — Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus by James Tissot
Gospel LK 19:1-10
At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“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.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.”
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Commentary on Luke 19:1-10 From Living Space
Today we have one of the most delightful stories of Luke and indeed of the whole Gospel. It follows immediately – and not by accident – after the healing of a blind man as Jesus enters the city of Jericho, to the northeast of Jerusalem.
The central figure is Zacchaeus, who, Luke tells us, was a chief tax collector and a rich man. This is the only reference in Scripture to a ‘chief tax collector’. It probably means he was responsible for a district or region with other tax collectors answerable to him. The region at this time was prosperous so more tax collectors were needed.
Knowing he was a chief tax collector it was hardly necessary to mention that he was wealthy. Tax collectors were studiously avoided and despised by their fellow-Jews. They made contracts with the Roman authorities to collect taxes and made sure that they got from the public what today we might call generous “commissions”. After all, it was a kind of business and they had to make a living. And, if an ordinary tax collector could do well, it is easy to imagine how much a chief tax collector might make. One commentator refers to him as a ‘creep’.
Apart from forcing people to part with their hard-earned money, they were seen as traitors to their own people by taking their money and giving it to the pagan Roman colonialists occupying their country. One can see how Jesus could cause great offence to the religious-minded by sitting down and eating with such ‘scum’.
Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was in town and he was very curious to see what Jesus was like. Already we have here an echo of yesterday’s story, because Zacchaeus too wants to see. However, at this stage, it seems to be only a kind of curiosity. He just wanted to get a glimpse of a person of whom he undoubtedly heard people talk. Maybe he had even heard that Jesus had a name for mixing with people like himself.
Because he was a small man (in more ways than one?), he could not see over the large crowd of people surrounding Jesus. So he ran on ahead and climbed into the branches of a sycamore tree to get a better look. A sycamore tree can grow to a height of 10 to 15 metres, with a short trunk and spreading branches and hence easy to climb and easily capable of carrying a grown man.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but he did not expect that Jesus would see him. He must have practically fallen out of the tree from surprise when he heard Jesus look in his direction and say, “Zacchaeus, hurry down. I want to stay in your house today.” What beautiful words! And yet it is a self-invitation that Jesus constantly extends to us. It is right there in our First Reading for today: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Is my house ready, is my door open to let him in?
Zacchaeus could hardly believe his ears. He rushed down and delightedly welcomed Jesus into his house. Immediately those around began to grumble. “He has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest.” Of all the people in Jericho, Jesus picks the house of the one person in the town who was regarded as a social and religious outcast.
But, as usual, Jesus sees beyond the public image to the real person. Zacchaeus may be a chief tax collector but he is ready to give half of his property to the poor and, if he has cheated anyone, he promises to pay them back four times what they lost. Fourfold restitution was demanded by Jewish law, but in one case only, the theft of a sheep (Exodus 21:37). Roman law demanded such restitution from all convicted thieves. Zacchaeus, however, promises to pay in any case of injustice for which he has been responsible.
Some commentators read the passage as saying that Zacchaeus has already been making these forms of restitution and sharing his wealth with the poor. In which case, Jesus is able to see beyond the stereotype which makes Zacchaeus the tax collector an outcast. He was not going to the house of a sinner but to that of a good man. Jesus always sees the real person and goes beyond the label. Can we always claim to do the same?
Whatever the interpretation, we can see that, though Zacchaeus may have belonged to a discredited profession, his heart was in the right place, in the place of compassion and justice.
And so Jesus tells Zacchaeus that “salvation”, wholeness and integrity has come to his house. In spite of his despised profession he is “a descendant of Abraham” because his behaviour is totally in harmony with the requirements of the Law and in fact goes well beyond it. For Jesus, too, no social status closes the door to salvation. For this is what it means to be a “son of Abraham”, namely, to be a loving, caring person full of compassion and a sense of justice and not just a keeper of ritualistic observances.
Zacchaeus, who had originally just wanted to have an external glimpse of Jesus, has now come to see Jesus in a much deeper sense. A seeing that changed his whole life as it did that of the beggar in yesterday’s story.
Further, in answer to the accusation that he has entered the house of a sinner, Jesus says, “The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.” As he said on another occasion, the healthy have no need of a physician but only the sick. Jesus is the good Shepherd leaving the well-behaved 99 and going in search of the single one that has gone astray.
As we read this story, there are a number of things we could reflect on. We too want to see Jesus in the deepest possible sense. Only then can we truly become his disciples. We need to hear him saying to us, “I want to stay in your house today.” Let us open the door and welcome him in.
And we need to be careful in judging people from their appearance or their social position or their occupation. As a Church, we could spend a lot more time looking for those who are lost instead of concentrating on serving the already converted. In fact, only when people become active evangelisers themselves can we speak of them as “converted”, as “good Christians”.
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
We return to the Gospel from Luke today and meet Zacchaeus, a short man who is the chief tax collector and a wealthy man. We can note immediately that Zacchaeus is not a proud man. Think of this short man running ahead of Jesus and climbing a tree to see him. How undignified and comic! We can hope that we might have this enthusiasm to know the Lord, to see Jesus. Jesus never turns people away. There are times when Jesus tests those who come to see him, such as the foreign woman in the Gospel of Matthew to whom he replies that he cannot give to the dogs food for those at table. But Jesus knows the people and knows how far He can test them.
We need to have this enthusiasm of Zacchaeus and the strength of character of the foreign woman when we come seeking Jesus. Zacchaeus is ready to give a lot (we can note that he does not offer to give up everything!) in order to follow Jesus. How much are we willing to give to the Lord? Are we willing to make fools of ourselves so that we can see Jesus? Are we willing to seek wisdom?
Let us give whatever we can give at this moment, even if it is not yet all! Let us walk with the Lord and ask Him to help us.
Your brother in the Lord,
Today’s Gospel is one of our favorites because Zacchaeus “Goes to any length” to get what’s he’s after and what he needs. He even climbs a tree so he can see the Lord…..
The Catholic Church is the biggest single organization in the world. We have more than a billion members under the leadership of our Holy Father. It is so huge and members so diverse that it has become increasingly difficult to minister to each and every member individually and personally. Furthermore with the declining number of ordained ministers and religious, the work of formation is much affected and often neglected. This explains why although we are the biggest Church but yet not as vibrant as we should be, considering the resources and heritage we have.
Indeed, most of our Catholics are nominal Catholics. More than half are merely Sunday Catholics. The half other do not step into the church except on special occasions, if at all. Those who take their faith seriously are much fewer. This is not just our complaint but that of the Lord as well when He reprimanded the churches in Asia Minor. To the church in Laodicea the Lord says, “I know all about you: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Indifference to the faith is the sin of the majority of our Catholics. They are not bad Catholics because they do come to church on Sundays, and even if they don’t they would say some Catholic prayers now and then. They are happy and proud to be identified as Catholics. And if they are in deep trouble, they would quickly turn to God and our Blessed Mother for assistance.
But this is where conversion becomes difficult. It is easier to convert real sinners than lukewarm Catholics. This is what the Lord says to the church in Sardis. “I know all about you: how you are reputed to be alive and yet are dead.” Indeed, many of us who attend mass regularly, even daily mass, and are active in Church organizations, rendering our services to the Church, are very far from the Lord. In fact, one of the criticisms against Church members is that they appear to be pious and holy but they lack compassion, sensitivity, sincere love and humble service to the community. This is equally true of priests and religious too. After some time in the ministry, we become jaded and perfunctory in the way we carry out our duties, more as a routine and duty than with passion, excitement and devotion.
What is the reason for this change in attitude? We do not take the call to holiness seriously. Our involvement in the affairs of the world has contaminated us. We are tired, burnt-out and sometimes, disillusioned and helpless. Over exposure to the pastoral ministry can make one lose his or her focus on God and the spiritual life. The irony of clerics, religious and Church workers is that we are supposed to take care of the souls of our people but we fail to look after our own souls! This is the lamentation of God. He said, “So far I have failed to notice anything in the way you live that my God could possibly call perfect, and yet do you remember how eager you were when you first heard the message.” How true when we think of our initial calling to Church ministry. We were so happy and felt so privileged that we could serve the people of God in the Church. We felt so humbled that God could even choose us to be His priests and religious. But then we got used to this gift of the priesthood and religious life and forgot that the reason why we wanted to serve in the Church was to grow in our spiritual life and in holiness. The truth is that the longer we serve in the Church, the less holy we become because what we do becomes spiritual professionalism. We are not sincerely seeking to grow in holiness through a deeper prayer life, through sacrifices, penance and mortification. In fact, often those who are involved in Church activities and services are so overwhelmed by the demands and responsibilities that they hardly have time to pray, to reflect on their own personal life, whether they are growing in the virtues of Christ and fidelity to the gospel. The Lord warns us that if we do not wake up and repent, we will hurt ourselves.
What are those factors that hinder us from coming to the Lord and growing in holiness and in grace? It is the temptation of self-sufficiency. This is the problem of the rich man, not necessarily in material terms but in terms of self-sufficiency. The Lord has this to ask us, “You say to yourself, ‘I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want,’ never realizing that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too.” Those of us who are rich in wealth, talents, knowledge and power think that we can do everything without God. We think that we can manage on our own. Instead of relying on God, we tend to rely on ourselves. Proud and intellectual people are very difficult to convert them. Even those in Church ministry hardly pray to Him to bless their labour, although they profess that everything is the grace of God. They work hard but they do not make time to pray and ask for God’s blessings and assistance. This is why Pope Francis in his encyclical, the Joy of the Gospel, calls the whole Church, beginning with himself and the clergy, to seek repentance and conversion. This is what the Lord is asking of us, “I warn you, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you really rich, and white robes to clothe you and cover your shameful nakedness, and eye ointment to put on your eyes so that you are able to see. I am the one who reproves and disciplines all those he loves: so repent in real earnest.”
Of course, there are also the worldly riches that tempt us from growing in faith and holiness. Many are tempted by money and the pleasures of life. We think that if we are rich and have plenty of money, our lives will be well cared for. We would not have to worry about anything and we would not need God. We will spend our lives eating, drinking, and carousing away. But in truth, living in big mansions, dressing in fine linens and clothes, dining at exclusive clubs and restaurants cannot make us happy in life. Those of us who are really rich, after some time, find all these distasteful. The good food is no longer good. The beautiful house is just another house. We get used to what we have. There is a saturation point when it comes to material happiness and gratification. After which, it has a declining satisfaction.
This was the case of the Zacchaeus in the gospel. We read that “he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man.” He had everything he needed in life. He had a secure and comfortable career that would ensure him many more years of accumulating huge profits from his dubious profession. But he was feeling empty and unfulfilled. When Jesus came along, we are told that he was “anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was.” He must have heard about Jesus and what a man He was. In other words, he wanted to seek the fullness of life. So he was interested in Jesus but of course, as a tax collector, he also knew that he had not much hope to meet Jesus personally. So, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.”
If we are feeling this way, the Good News is that the Lord will come into our house if only we will invite Him.“Look, I am standing at the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” We must imitate Zacchaeus. He was only hoping to have a glimpse of Jesus but in truth, Jesus was waiting for him to open the door of his house. No matter who we are, even sinners, if we are ready to open the door of our hearts, He will come and live in us and be with us. All we need is to welcome Jesus into our home and give Him hospitality.
The great joy is this that when Jesus comes into our lives, we will undergo a total transformation. Our lives will never be the same again, as in the case of Zacchaeus who told the Lord, “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.” Indeed, once we taste the joy of intimacy with Jesus, we see life in perspective. Life is more than money and pleasure. Life is about relationship, intimacy, love, service and compassion. In coming to know Jesus, his eyes opened and he found all the things of this world incomparable to life in Christ.
Happiness in life is to live a righteous life as the responsorial exhorts us. “Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent? He who walks without fault; he who acts with justice and speaks the truth from his heart; he who does not slander with his tongue. He who does no wrong to his brother, who casts no slur on his neighbour, who holds the godless in disdain, but honours those who fear the Lord. He who takes no interest on a loan and accepts no bribes against the innocent. Such a man will stand firm forever.” This is the victorious life that the book of Revelation speaks about. It is victory over sin and death after being purified in love and growing in holiness. “Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
Question: “What does it mean that Jesus will return like a thief in the night?”
Answer: The return of Jesus Christ is likened to the coming of a thief in the night. Two passages use the wording “a thief in the night”: Matthew 24:43, “Understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into,” and 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of His second coming at the end of the tribulation. Paul calls it “the day of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 5. This is a day of divine retribution featuring astronomical upheaval and the visible “sign of the Son of Man” in the heavens (Matthew 24:29–30). Jesus says it will happen “after the tribulation of those days” (verse 29, ESV), a description that distinguishes this event from the rapture, which happens before the tribulation.
How is the second coming going to be like a thief in the night? The key element of Jesus’ comparison is that no one will know when He will return. Just as a thief catches a household by surprise, Jesus will catch the unbelieving world by surprise when He returns in judgment. People will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (verse 38), just as if they have all the time in the world. But then, before they know it, Judgment Day will be upon them (verses 40–41). Paul puts it this way: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
The believer does not fear this swift and sudden judgment; the “thief in the night” will not catch us by surprise. Christians are in a separate category: “But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). It is only those in darkness who will be taken unawares, and we “are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (verse 5). Praise the Lord, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 9).
The unsaved should heed Jesus’ warning: “Be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). How can you be ready? God has provided the way for you to escape the judgment. That way is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). By accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are granted forgiveness of sins, mercy, and salvation with the promise of everlasting life (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8–9). The “thief” is coming, but you can be a child of the day. Don’t put it off; this is “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19).
Recommended Resource: Three Views on the Rapture by Gleason L. Archer, Jr., ed.
Tags: chief tax collector, climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, come like a thief in the night, go to any length to get it, have not found your works complete in the sight of my God, Lk 19:1-10, November 15 2016, Prayer and Meditation, RV 3:1-6 14-22, Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, You have the reputation of being alive but you are dead, you will never know at what hour I will come upon you, Zacchaeus