Archbishop Lori’s Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
October 30, 2022

That’s All We Need!

Years ago, as Bishop of Bridgeport, I was scheduled to preside at a wedding. The bride and groom were calm, but one of the moms was not quite so calm. As the wedding day approached, a prophet of doom predicted that the world would end on the very day of the wedding, and at the very hour for which it was scheduled. “That’s all we need!” said the nervous mom, “Just our luck!” Fortunately, the wedding went off without “a hitch”, so to speak.

In today’s reading, St. Paul tries to calm down the Thessalonians who heard that the second coming of Jesus was at hand. Although the early Christians prayed, as we pray, for the glorious second coming of Christ at the end of time, rumors of his second coming alarmed the Thessalonians. They weren’t so sure they were ready to meet the Lord of glory, the “judge of the living and the dead”. Perhaps they looked upon the Lord’s return the way an unscrupulous landlord looks upon a sudden visit by a building inspector. Maybe that’s how we also think about meeting Christ whether at the end of our lives for the particular judgement, or at the end of time for the general judgment. We say we want to see Jesus face-to-face – only not just yet. And yes, at Mass we pray for the Lord’s second coming – only not just yet. We seem to say, as did that unnerved mother, “That’s all we need!

Zacchaeus and the Coming of Jesus

What a contrast with Zacchaeus! When he heard that Jesus was passing through Jericho, he was excited. A short man, he climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. It’s not that Zacchaeus was a disciple of Jesus – far from it. No, he was a dishonest tax collector. He defrauded his compatriots. He got rich by aiding and abetting the oppressive Roman Empire. Nonetheless, he really wanted to see Jesus!

Jesus knew this. He looked up and told Zacchaeus that he meant to stay at his house. Nothing made Zacchaeus happier than having the Teacher as his guest. And if at first Zacchaeus was merely curious about Jesus because he was famous, in short order his curiosity gave way to a life-giving encounter with the Savior. As Jesus gazed upon Zacchaeus, he read his soul like a book. His was not an intrusive gaze, but a loving gaze that unlocked in Zacchaeus’ heart something he had been searching for: a love that understands, a love that forgives, a love that transforms – a love that stronger than his weakness, a love more valuable than all he owned. This is the love, the eternal love, Zacchaeus met with in Jesus’ gaze. It turns out that Jesus came, not merely to Zacchaeus’ dwelling, but to his inmost soul. That day, he welcomed Jesus into the depth of his heart, his “inner room”.

What a change Jesus’ loving gaze brought about in Zacchaeus! Having repented of his sins, he was a new person – he was truly free! He gave away half his possessions to the poor and promised to more than compensate anyone he had defrauded. And Jesus said, “today, salvation has come to this house…” for Jesus came that day to his inmost heart.

Welcoming Jesus Daily

Perhaps the prospect of Jesus’ second coming and/or our decisive meeting with the Savior at the end of our lives – perhaps these events that do lay in our future, wouldn’t be so daunting if we, like Zacchaeus, welcomed Jesus more intentionally every day. In one of his sermons, St. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of three comings of Christ. He first came as the Child of Mary’s womb, born in a stable at Bethlehem. At the end of time, he will come again in glory as our judge. The third coming of Christ is his “intermediate” coming, as daily he knocks at the door of our hearts seeking to be admitted. The Lord comes to us in Word and Sacrament; in Scripture; in the poor. If we were to welcome the Lord each day with half of Zacchaeus’ enthusiasm, we might not be so off put by the thought of his second coming. Like the earliest Christians, we’d find ourselves proclaiming in joyful hope, “Maranatha!” – Come, Lord Jesus!

What does Zacchaeus teach us about welcoming the Lord every day? How do we muster at least some of his enthusiasm for the coming of Jesus each day? For starters, Zacchaeus was curious – he wondered who this Jesus was. He heard about his miracles and teachings that captured the imaginations of many. Are we curious to know Jesus, as curious as we might be to meet a celebrity?

Then, there’s the fact that Zacchaeus climbed up a tree to see Jesus. I’m not recommending tree climbing – I’d be the first to take a tumble – but to see Jesus we do have to rise above the din, poke our head above the crowd. Prayer is one way of elevating ourselves. It’s the raising our mind and heart to God. Lifting up our hearts in the celebration of the Eucharist is another way. Reading the lofty words of Scripture is yet another. Standing on the shoulders of the saints is still another.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, we, like Zacchaeus, will soon see that he isn’t merely a wonderworker, a religious expert, or a teacher of morals. He is the lover of our souls, and if we let him, he will gaze into the eyes of our soul. Let us not avoid his gaze. Look the other way. Change the subject. Distract ourselves. No, let us allow Jesus to look at us with the look of love, and in loving us, to reveal us to ourselves, warts and all. Zacchaeus allowed the Lord to do this while he was yet a sinner. What did he find? Not condemnation but liberation. Not misery but joy. Not a doubling down in his sins but freedom from sins that had burdened him his whole life long. Zacchaeus allowed Jesus to re-create him. He was still Zacchaeus, still that short little man who probably had pointy elbows – but now a new Zacchaeus emerges whose life was changed from the inside-out. He makes restitution and gives to the poor, not in obedience to the abstract rule of justice, but as the result of his merciful encounter with the One who judges justly. We have to believe that something similar can happen in our lives. The Lord will help us part with whatever it might be in our lives that holds us back from loving him with all our hearts and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In baptism, we became a new creation but sometimes the Old Adam has a way of overshadowing the New Adam. Sometimes our faith grows cold and trails off. Sometimes we think our “interior castle” is so messy that we keep the Lord out. But he wants to come our house and he wants to come today. Let us climb the sycamore, let us get Jesus’ attention, let’s invite him in. Then let us rejoice as salvation comes to our house! That is all we truly need!

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.