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Bishop's Homily for the 31st Sunday Ordinary Time

November 3, 2019

[Blessed Sacrament Church, Pauoa]

I must confess that one of the very popular phrases that makes me cringe a bit is “What would Jesus do?”  While it is certainly a noble thing to want to understand Jesus and to follow his ways, this particular phrase bothers me not so much for what it says as for what it implies.  It asks us to think about what Jesus WOULD do IF he were still here.  It can easily express what I think is one of the difficulties we Catholics – and perhaps other Christians -- have.  We think of Jesus as a person who lived in the past, who taught us beautiful lessons we should ponder and put into practice, who gave his life for us on the cross, who rose from the dead, but then who left us to enjoy himself in heaven.  All of this is true, but the beauty of our faith is that there is much more.  Jesus is alive.  He is present with us.  The question should not be “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What is Jesus doing?”  Jesus lived in the past, but he lives now, and he is active through us and among us.

What a nice story we just heard about Zacchaeus climbing the tree to see Jesus, being invited to receive Jesus into his home, and having a life-changing experience because of his encounter with Jesus.  But the fact is that this is not just a nice story about something that happened 2000 years ago.  We are all Zacchaeus.  Our coming here today is just like climbing that tree:  making the effort to choose, among many other choices we could have made today, to come to this event where we can encounter Jesus; getting a little different perspective on things than we normally get on the ground.  Maybe we came for curiosity, or to be with our friends.  Maybe Zacchaeus went up that tree out of pure curiosity, too.  But the Lord called him back down to the ground, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house.  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is doing to all of us today, calling us back to the ground, where we look at our families, our relationships, our ways of living day in and day out?  Not lofty, ivory-tower, tree-top things, but things that really affect our lives and the lives of others.  And even better, he invites himself into our lives, into our homes, our schools, our communities. 

This is not make-believe but very real.  What we are doing together at this moment is the greatest encounter with Jesus we can have.  We are here to celebrate the Eucharist, to give thanks to God not just for what Jesus did in the past, but for what Jesus is doing now.  When we read the Scriptures, it is not just reading from some ancient revered text.  This is the Word of God, living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword.  If we listen carefully and allow it to do so, it will penetrate our hearts and change us as surely as it did Zacchaeus.  When we go to the altar, we are not just reciting some long boring prayer.  We are calling down the Holy Spirit to change mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ himself, the living Bread come down from heaven.  The same Jesus who dined at the house of Zacchaeus has invited us to be with him at this banquet.  The living and risen Lord Jesus is present here in the Eucharist in a way that he is not present anywhere else.  We have this wonderful treasure, but we sometimes miss it.  We think the quality of the music or of the preaching is really the most important thing, but it is not.  Whether he is welcomed with great pomp and circumstance, with great joy and jubilation, or with quiet and reserve, Jesus is truly here with us.

Jesus knew very well that Zacchaeus – and his table companions – were sinners and thieves.  Yet without mentioning a word about their sins, Jesus’ presence and love transformed the life of Zacchaeus and made him want to amend his ways and turn to doing good.

How much are we in need of conversion every day?  Maybe we bully others by putting them down or talking about them behind their backs.  Maybe we use others for our own sexual gratification without the real love that is only genuine when it is committed for life and fruitful.  Maybe we ignore those whose hearts are aching, or who have no place to live or food to eat.  Maybe we try to be successful in school only so that we can make lots of money or have lots of prestige rather than so that we can better serve our neighbor.  We have plenty of faults and failings and sins.  Yet Jesus once again says to us, “I want to stay with you today.”  And if we let him, his love will transform us and change us as profoundly as it did Zacchaeus.  And little by little we will become people who are not always on the take, but who live to give and to share the joy of Jesus’ love that we experience.

Memories can move us.  Past history can help us.  Ancient principles of good moral behavior can guide us.  Past heroes and heroines can inspire us.  But no one can transform as deeply as someone who is alive now, who is present to us, and who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine.  It is Jesus who is here.  It is Jesus who has invited us to this banquet with him where he is not only the company but the very food.

What would Jesus do?  That’s too tame and safe and distant.  We climb up that tree every time we come here so that Jesus can do to us today what he has always done and will do forever more.