Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time


Zacchaeus was leader of the tax collectors, a man entirely abandoned to greed, whose only goal was the increase of his gains. This was the practice of the tax collectors, although Paul calls it idolatry,4 possibly as being suitable only for those who have no knowledge of God. Since they shamelessly, openly professed this vice, the Lord very justly joined them with the prostitutes, saying to the leaders of the Jews, “The prostitutes and the tax collectors go before you into the kingdom of God.”5 Zacchaeus did not continue to be among them, but he was counted worthy of mercy at Christ’s hands. He calls near those who are far away and gives light to those who are in darkness.1


Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush. As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”2


Let us hear what the Lord says to the prophet Jeremiah concerning idolaters: “Go and say, ‘Return, house of Israel, says the Lord. I will not show you an indignant face, because I am compassionate, says the Lord. I will not maintain my anger forever. Rise, acknowledge your guilt. You have been godless and followed strangers under every green tree.’ ” See what God promises to those who return after they fall: to forgive their sins, once they have turned from their apostasy. And the Lord says further by the mouth of Jeremiah, “My pampered children have had to trod bitter paths, pushed along like a flock kidnapped by the enemy. Have courage, children, cry out to God, because he who has tested you will remember you. Just as you thought to separate yourselves from God, return to him, seeking him with ten times the zeal, since the one who afflicted you with so many calamities will also give you, with salvation, everlasting joy.” O the mercy of God! How he calls to those who have fallen, that they might rise again! How he exhorts them so that, after their errors with idols, they would return to him! Like a benevolent Father he promises the eternal joy of salvation to his children if they mend their ways. Among other things, he says further by the same prophet, “I will lead them back to this country. I will firmly reestablish them and will not destroy them. I will plant them, and never again will I uproot them.” In fact, since he had threatened, “The one who sacrifices to the gods will be uprooted,” so that those who had sinned would not despair (as though, having been uprooted for having sacrificed to idols, they could not be replanted), he exhorts them, since if they repent they can be restored to their prior state. If they do not correct their crime, however, the sentence will be carried out. Moreover, it was preached to the Ninevites that their city would be destroyed after three days. Why after three days, if not that they might repent and the sentence be cancelled, or that they might remain in their sin and have even greater reason to perish? This is as he said through the prophet, “I do not desire the death of the one who dies, but that he would return to me and live.” And thus it happened that the Ninevites, destined to die for their sins, were pardoned because of their repentance. And why did the construction of the ark by Noah take a hundred years, if not so that those who saw and heard what was threatened would correct themselves? Indeed, God wants no one to perish. This is why we read in Solomon, “The Lord had mercy on sinners.” And further, “You have compassion on all, because you can do all things. You overlook people’s sins, that they might repent.” It is in this sense that the Lord, deploring the faithlessness of the Jews, says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how often have I wanted to gather your children, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling!” Everywhere in the Law, then, the Lord exhorts sinners to conversion, not wanting that his creatures fall into perdition. And the Law that was given had no other purpose than that men and women would turn from error to the truth. Nonetheless, in the New Testament the author of the Law reveals himself as being more merciful, since he wanted to be more generous and rich in mercy at that time when he deigned to manifest the sacrament of his Son our Lord, so that grace would be more abundant through the preaching of the Son than through the preaching of the servants.3


Let us turn and trust in the Lord while we live the season of this life, and let us prepare the viaticum of penance before our judge. Let us not fill our time with futile engagements or say that we are born to sin, but let us live to act well. And even if we fall into sin, since, given the setting of this world, it is unavoidable that we sin, let us come to our senses, desiring to flee the abyss of Gehenna. Therefore let us repent with faith, pray with the heart, weep from our very depths.4


I said, “Salvation through this religion, through which alone true salvation is promised and truly promised, has never been lacking to anyone who was worthy of it, and the one to whom it was lacking was unworthy of it.” I did not mean this as though anyone were worthy according to his own merits, but as the apostle says, “God’s purpose in election” does not depend on deeds but is applied according to him who calls—Rebekah was told, “The elder shall serve the younger”—and he asserts that this call depends on the purpose of God. Hence Paul says, “Not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.” Similarly, he says, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Concerning this call he says, “that he may consider you worthy of his calling.”5


  1. COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 127.  Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (pp. 289–290). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. SERMON 174.3.  Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 291). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. QUESTIONS FROM BOTH TESTAMENTS 102.  Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (pp. 135–136). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. ON PENANCE 27.  Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 136). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. RETRACTATIONS 2.31.  Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 105). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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