Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

In correcting people, the kind of approach we adopt is all-important. If we approach them only to confront them with their faults, in all probability we will achieve nothing. In fact, we are likely to make matters worse. They will close up, become resentful, and harden their hearts.

You never improve people by avoiding them or rejecting them. A cold climate doesn’t encourage growth.

If you snub a person, all you do is harden his heart. You have to find a way of touching a person’s heart. All people, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and are capable of changing if their hearts are touched.

We have to approach people in such a way that we show them that we believe in them, that we have confidence in them. The result is that they drop their guard and open up. Once they open up anything can happen. We see this in case of Zacchaeus.

Jesus spotted Zacchaeus on the tree. Now Zacchaeus’ lifestyle was in complete opposition to everything Jesus stood for. No doubt the people expected and hoped that Jesus would read the riot act to him. Had he done so he would have enhanced his popularity in the town.

But Jesus refused to read the Riot Act to Zacchaeus. Instead, he did something which made him immediately unpopular with the people. He asked Zacchaeus if he could dine in his house, and surprisingly Zacchaeus received him with joy. The people complained, ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house.’ They hated Zacchaeus. They didn’t want to see him saved. They wanted to see him condemned and punished.

But Jesus didn’t think like this. He saw that what Zacchaeus needed was not condemnation but salvation. There was no question of whether or not he deserved salvation. He needed it – that was enough for Jesus. By coming to his house, in the face of the angry disapproval of the towns people, Jesus showed Zacchaeus that he cared about him. Had he avoided him or condemned him, the miracle would never have happened.

Zacchaeus experienced the love of Jesus. This must have been a wonderful experience for a man who up to this had experienced so much hate. It’s marvelous to feel that somebody has confidence in us, that we are not judged or condemned, but loved. Zacchaeus’ heart burst into life like a desert landscape after a rainfall.

To be loved in one’s goodness is no big deal. It’s no more than one deserves. But to be loved in one’s badness – as Zacchaeus was – that’s magic. He experienced the surprise of being loved. It led to the flowering of the best that was in him. His conversion was a conversion to goodness. To a greater or lesser degree, all of us need this kind of conversion.

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