Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 33rd Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
November 17, 2015
2 Mc 6:18-31, Ps 3, Lk 19:1-10
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Jesus’ love for sinners was so profound that he literally went to the deepest place on earth in search of perhaps the greatest public sinner of that city, to reconcile him to the Father. Jesus went to Jericho, the lowest city on the planet — 853 feet below sea level — to find Zacchaeus, who was not just one of a bunch of tax-collectors loathsome to the Jewish authorities, but the chief tax collector of the region. Jesus had promised that he, the Good Shepherd, would leave the ninety-nine sheep in his fold to search out and save one lost sheep, and this is what he did, leaving the crowds behind and entering alone with Zacchaeus into his home and into his life. He called Zacchaeus, his lost sheep, by name and heaven rejoiced on that day more for him than for all the others. So, too, today and everyday, Jesus takes the initiative of knocking at the door of our souls, asking for entry, coming to us wherever we are, no matter the depths to which we’ve sunk, no matter the fact that perhaps everyone else around us might despise us. Jesus never abandons us. To the extent that we repent of whatever sins we’ve committed and accept Jesus’ gracious invitation by “welcoming him with delight,” we, too, like Zacchaeus, can have salvation come to us.
- The diminutive Zacchaeus’ climbing of the tree, moreover, is more than (merely) an interesting detail. The text tells us that he was trying to see Jesus, but could not because of the crowd, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree along Jesus’ route in order to be able to see him. We, too, often cannot see the Lord because other people get in the way. They block our sight in countless ways. We’re often too small of stature to see over such obstacles, and, unfortunately, too often others are too selfish, distracted, sinful, judgmental or out-of-it, to do anything to help us and bring us into the presence of the Lord. Like a little child, however, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see the Lord. Such an act could have led to great mockery for a middle-aged public figure. Think about if you saw the head of the IRS or some cabinet official climbing a telephone pole in order to get a better glimpse of the Pope. But Zacchaeus didn’t care. He wanted to see the Lord and none of these obstacles was going to stop him. His example challenges each of us to consider what is the extent to which we go, what trees or obstacles we’ll climb, in order to see Jesus more clearly. Are we capable of being accounted fools for Christ for following those means that others might consider silly if they will bring us into greater relationship with Jesus?
- The third thing this episode with Zacchaeus teaches us is that a true conversion to God also brings about a real conversion to others. The rehabilitation of our relationship with God is not meant to remain private, but is supposed to help us reexamine our relationship with others and inspire us to repair whatever harms we have caused. Even though Zacchaeus, like his fellow tax-collectors, would have been guilty of ripping off the people of Jericho by unregulated over-taxation, he knew that he needed to make amends and to use the gift of his office to do good rather than evil. So he told Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Strict justice would have required his giving back precisely what he had overcharged. If he had really wanted to be kind, he would have given it back with modest interest. But he was going to give it back with four-hundred perccent interest, which was a sign of great contrition for the gravity of his previous sins of stealing and intimidation. Moreover, a strictly observant religious Jew would give ten percent of his income over to God and the poor. Zacchaeus committed himself to giving fifty percent of his income to those who were needy, which was a sign of great love and a recognition that others needed his money more than he did. From that point forward, he was going to be an honest tax collector, a Christian tax collector, and use his office for his salvation and sanctification and for that of others. Zacchaeus likely remained a rich man, but one who used his riches, used what God gave him, for building up God’s kingdom. We’re called to do the same with whatever God has given us.
- The whole theme of overcoming obstacles to see Christ and find in him someone seeking us is living in the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) whose feast the Church celebrates today. She was the daughter of the King of Hungary and when she was four she was betrothed to Louis, the son of the Landgrave of Thuringia. She was raised with him for the next 10 years until the marriage, when she was 14 and he 21. Louis always supported St. Elizabeth’s piety and charity. In the opening prayer of the Mass, we noted that by God’s grace, Elizabeth was able to “recognize and revere Christ in her neighbor,” and because of that capacity to see and to love Jesus with passion, she is truly one of the most outstanding examples of charity in history. During a severe famine, she exhausted her treasure and distributed all her own store of corn to the poor. She build a hospital at the foot of the tall, rocky promontory on which the Wartburg Castle was built so that the infirm and weak wouldn’t have to climb it. She fed them with her own hands — as well as 900 others every day — made their beds and cared for them in so many other ways. She provided for orphans and helpless children. When many criticized her material benefactions as being excessive, her husband said that her charities would bring upon the whole realm divine blessings. But even he reached his limit once when Elizabeth brought a leper to the castle and had him sleep in their protected quarters as a type of quarantine. He rushed into the bedroom to drag away all of the bedclothes and other things that might carry the dreaded disease, but as he was doing so, he recognized that the leper had stigmata. Through his wife, he learned to recognize and revere Christ, to see and love him, in his neighbor, including the most revolting.
- In our life, however, we need to do more than just glimpse Christ once. We need to keep our eyes on him and that requires the perseverance of faith. In today’s first reading, we have one of the great examples of perseverance in Eleazar, a nonagenarian Jew whom the Greeks in 142 BC were trying to force to eat pork in violation of the Mosaic Law. He gives us unforgettable lessons about fidelity, courage, and the importance of setting good example. The Greek authorities opened up Eleazar’s mouth and jammed it with pork, but he spat it out, knowing that the penalty for doing so was death. I’ll let the author of the Second Book of Maccabees take it from there: “Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately… and urged him to bring meat of his own providing… and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king; in this way he would escape the death penalty, and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him. But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood; and so he declared that above all he would be loyal to the holy laws given by God: ‘At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many young men would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. Should I thus dissimulate for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age. Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.’ Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned and said: ‘The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.’ This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of courage and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation” (2 Macc 6:18-31).
- At the very end of his life, St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). Eleazar went out fighting that fight, finishing the marathon of life, maintaining the treasure of faith and being unwilling to betray the faith and the Lord who inspires it even to save one’s life here on earth. He kept his eyes on God and resolutely persevered in that vision no matter what threats came. He teaches us that the older one gets, the holier one should be.
- At we come to the altar today, we can turn to the Lord and thank him for the example of Zacchaeus, Eleazar and St. Elizabeth. We can thank the Lord for continually coming to save us, no matter how far we’ve sunk, and no matter how many times we’ve fallen, for calling us by name, and for inviting himself literally inside of us to abide in us and have us abide in him. We can thank him in advance as well for the graces he’ll give us so that we can with him climb whatever sycamores or redwoods we have to in order to see him more clearly. But most of all we can thank him for going one step further. When we and the whole human race were incapable of seeing him on account of the great weight of sin which was reducing our humanity to smaller and smaller images of what we are called to be, and thereby when we were incapable of climbing any tree at all, he, out of his great love for us, climbed one on our behalf, so that each of us, dying and wailing like the serpent-bit Jews in the desert, might still be able to see him, perched upon his glorious wooden throne. He invites each of us here and now in this Eucharistic participation in his death and resurrection, to be lifted up by him onto that life-giving tree. Today, with Zacchaeus, with Eleazar, with St. Elizabeth of Hungary, let us pick up that Cross — our cross! — and thereby be picked up by it, so that as God’s children we might spend eternity in that celestial tree house built upon the Cross’ firm foundation.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 2 Mc 6:18-31
a man of advanced age and noble appearance,
was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork.
But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement,
he spat out the meat,
and went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture,
as people ought to do who have the courage to reject the food
which it is unlawful to taste even for love of life.
Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately,
because of their long acquaintance with him,
and urged him to bring meat of his own providing,
such as he could legitimately eat,
and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice
prescribed by the king;
in this way he would escape the death penalty,
and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him.
But Eleazar made up his mind in a noble manner,
worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age,
the merited distinction of his gray hair,
and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood;
and so he declared that above all
he would be loyal to the holy laws given by God.He told them to send him at once
to the abode of the dead, explaining:
“At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense;
many young people would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar
had gone over to an alien religion.
Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life,
they would be led astray by me,
while I would bring shame and dishonor on my old age.
Even if, for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men,
I shall never, whether alive or dead,
escape the hands of the Almighty.
Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now,
I will prove myself worthy of my old age,
and I will leave to the young a noble example
of how to die willingly and generously
for the revered and holy laws.”Eleazar spoke thus,
and went immediately to the instrument of torture.
Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed,
now became hostile toward him because what he had said
seemed to them utter madness.
When he was about to die under the blows,
he groaned and said:
“The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that,
although I could have escaped death,
I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging,
but also suffering it with joy in my soul
because of my devotion to him.”
This is how he died,
leaving in his death a model of courage
and an unforgettable example of virtue
not only for the young but for the whole nation.
Responsorial Psalm PS 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
O LORD, how many are my adversaries!
Many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
R. The Lord upholds me.
But you, O LORD, are my shield;
my glory, you lift up my head!
When I call out to the LORD,
he answers me from his holy mountain.
R. The Lord upholds me.
When I lie down in sleep,
I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I fear not the myriads of people
arrayed against me on every side.
R. The Lord upholds me.
Alleluia 1 Jn 4:10b
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God loved us, and sent his Son
as expiation for our sins.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Lk 19:1-10
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.”