31 October 2010
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 31 October 2010
Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2; Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14; 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
Imagine a barangay named Jericho. It was big and prosperous, and has just received news that the Lord Jesus was set to pass through its main road. The barangay chairman was one named Zaccheus, a man of small stature in more ways than one, with a reputation for being corrupt and greedy. He was not generally well-liked but he always won the election because he simply bribed the voters more than his rivals.
On the day the Lord Jesus walked through the barangay on his way to the big city, the people lined the main road hoping to see him. Zaccheus, the barangay chairman, also wanted to see Jesus but his short height prevented him from seeing behind a wall of people. Apparently, he was not only not well-liked, he was also not that much respected. Nobody seemed to notice him or to let him squeeze through to go to the front. Resourceful person that he was, he went to a nearby tree, climbed it, and held tight one of its branches. It was not a very dignified position for a local official.
Then Jesus stopped by the tree where he was at, looked up at him and said: “Zaccheus, come down, I would like to stay at your house.” He gladly obliged and was too overjoyed to wonder how Jesus came to know his name. Practically everybody, including Jesus’ companions, began to grumble: “We thought he would be different. It turns out, he also likes to mingle with the high and mighty as the rest of them. Doesn’t he know his reputation.” Zaccheus could care no less, the Lord has chosen to stay in his house.
While at dinner, he announced: “"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." Jesus replied: "Today salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
What is the message of the story?
1. The mission of Jesus is to seek and save those who are lost.
He came to call the sinners, the outcasts, the corrupt, the hopeless cases and gave them the gift of a better way to live, indeed, of life lived to the full, unlike the empty destructive lives they were currently living.
Wis 11,26-2,2 (from the First Reading) celebrates and explains this saving mission of God: “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”
It is in the same spirit of seeking and saving what was lost that our bishop released a pastoral letter about the conduct of the recent barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. So much and so many was lost and corrupted during those simultaneous elections.
I think that there three sets of scandals that happened last Monday and Tuesday (depending on where you voted).
The first is the most obvious. There was rampant vote-buying and selling in the elections. People in the barangays “have chosen to set aside Christian values and disrespect the law. Politicians shell out money to buy votes and maintain loyalty. The voters expect – and in many instances, demand – to be bribed into voting for candidates.”
The second is the worst and most dangerous for it involved the young. “The (SK) election was not spared from the same sin of corruption and vote-buying. In some places vote-buying for the position of SK Chairman reached as high as P1,500. [There were later reports of a few places where the stakes went as high as P4,000.] Young people were suspiciously ‘quartered’ in various beach resorts and other places prior to and during election day by political patrons. Most shocking were widespread stories of parents of SK candidates who funded, supported and pushed their children to bribe other youths into voting for them.” The title of the pastoral letter says it all: “Corrupting our Minors, Corrupting the Future”.
The third is the most insidious and widespread for it pertains to a loss of hope, a surrender of our communal conscience. “We hear even from honest, well-meaning people – perhaps reflecting the common sentiment nowadays – that we just have to get used to this sad situation that has become a way of life, a culture that has become impossible to change.”
2. By Christ’s saving mission, we mean He didn’t come just to accept us, but to change us.
In the Gospel story, Zaccheus made a startling announcement at dinner: he would give half of his possessions to the poor, and he would repay four times anyone whom he had extorted! These are not small sacrifices for a man of his wealth and reputation.
At the beginning of the story, we were told that he had an almost desperate desire to see Jesus. In spite of the worldliness without and the self-centeredness within, Zaccheus felt this urge to seek a greater sense of happiness and meaning. And he has found it in Jesus, and found in Him the reason to change for the better. We are hardwired for God. St. Augustine said it best when he wrote: “Our hearts are restless until it rests in Thee.”
The bishop’s pastoral letter is not so much a condemnation or a social critique. Its message would be lost if we only consider it along these terms. Its central message is the call to conversion. It is also a call to restore hope, a reminder that the darkness outside and within us is no match to the saving power of God.
After Zaccheus announced how much he was willing to give up as he embraced his new life, Jesus remarked: “Today salvation has come to this house.”
And so we ask ourselves, if we are a people of faith, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to be saved? What are those that we need to let go in order to let God rule our lives? How much are we willing to risk and give up so salvation can come to our young ones, to our families, communities and society?
It is always the instinct of a Christian to hope. It is the spark of God within us. Thus, it is with much hope that we believe that our political culture can still change for the better, if only we let God change us.