31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Oct 30, 2022
A local bar was so sure that their bartender was the strongest man around, that they offered a standing bet of $1000.00 to anyone who could squeeze more lemon juice into a glass than the bartender after he had squeezed the lemon dry. Many people had tried over the years — weightlifters, wrestlers, and construction workers —but no one could beat the bartender.
One day a scrawny little man walks into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit and says to the owner, “I’d like to try the competition.”
After the laughter died down among those in the bar, the owner said, “OK.” So, he motioned to the bartender to get a lemon. The bartender squeezed and squeezed away, and then handed the wrinkled remains of the lemon to the scrawny man. But the crowd’s laughter turned to total silence as the man firmly clenched his fist around the lemon and squeezed— not one, not two, not three, but six drops of lemon juice out of the lemon into a glass.
As the crowd cheered, the owner paid $1000.00 to the man and asked, “Sir, if you don’t mind my asking, what do you do for a living?”
The man replied with pride, “Me? I work for the CRA, Collections department!”
That tax man knew just how to extract every bit of juice from that lemon, just as many tax collectors in Jesus’ time knew how they could extract every last coin out of the people in the lands claimed by the Roman Empire and even pocketed some of the revenue for themselves. For this reason, many people considered the tax collectors to be the real thieves of the state.
But not so for Jesus! He doesn’t see Zacchaeus as someone ready and willing to exploit him. He doesn’t see just a rich and power Jew who was stealing from his own nation’s people, either. No, Jesus sees Zacchaeus as a man, ripe for evangelization, a man ready to hear and receive the Good News! Jesus sees Zacchaeus as a man who’s primed to accept his invitation to follow him and to change for the better. From the story, we can deduce that this isn’t the first time Jesus sees Zaccheaus, because he calls out to him by name.
Think of what must have been going through the minds of the onlookers! Maybe there were hundreds of people lining the streets as Jesus was passing through Jericho, pressing in on him and shouting out requests for Jesus’ divine intervention at every turn. Many of them might have been the rich and the powerful in the city and in the temple. Some might have been respectable statesmen, guards, and government officials. And yet, out of them all, Jesus singles out, a small tax collector who’s climbed a sycamore tree to get Jesus’ attention.
If it wasn’t for Zacchaeus’ ingenuity and resolve in finding a way to catch Jesus’ eye, that great opportunity for Jesus to evangelize Zacchaeus might have been entirely lost!
One thing’s for sure. Jesus is asking each of us today, to reflect on whether any of us are ever, like that crowd. Do we, by our actions or inactions, sometimes impede others from getting to know the saving love and mercy of God for them? Do we quote laws and scriptures to others to discourage them from advancing closer to the Lord? Do we ever judge others as less worthy of Jesus’ time and attention because of their past histories? Do we figuratively stand in their way, and feel more entitled to the graces God wants to bestow, and get jealous when they receive the graces we’ve asked for, instead? Have we ever written off a person just because of the way they’ve treated us in the past and have forever judged them to be irredeemable? If we’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then we’re being challenged by Christ today, to change those mindsets, attitudes, perceptions, and actions, and to develop the discernment skills delineated by Sherry Weddell in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples. She notes, that, as evangelizers, our job is to get out of the way and to help facilitate another’s walk of faith, with ever greater clarity, as that person comes to know Gods’ will for their lives.
The first thing evangelists should consider is a person’s trust level. People trust different things and different people at different times or moments along their life’s journey.
But all of us, who belong to a functioning society, must trust something or someone, or else society itself would fall apart. If someone trust their parents, then they’re the ones whose advice will be sought, more than another. If someone trusts an ordained clergy person, that cleric will have more sway in that person’s life decisions than someone not ordained. If someone trusts a non-profit charity or foundation, then that group’s beliefs or organizational structure will have greater impact on that person’s decision making than another’s.
If we find that the person is receptive to trusting us, then we can set up an encounter in an environment that’s comfortable for that person. If that person trusts others, then setting up a group encounter might be best. If that person dislikes crowds, then picking a place out of the limelight is preferable. Our selection of place is meant to lessen the person’s anxiety and to allow their psychological barriers to come down as well. In the case of Zacchaeus, Jesus suggests that they meet at the tax collector’s home. In our modern day world, it might be the Tim Horton’s, the mall, a place of business, one’s home or church, or online via a live-streaming platform.
The second element to look for when evangelizing is a spiritual curiosity. This means that a person has expressed a desire to know more about God, or Jesus or the church and has questions which might help them to embrace more fully, a newfound spiritual relationship to God, others and our world. As evangelizers, we’re called to help persons find the answers they’re seeking, in a language that’s understandable and relatable to them, and to share our own faith journey and the answers that have helped us along the way. This stage in a person’s life is all about giving the seeker, accurate information that will help him/her to discern what God’s plan is for their lives. Our gospel story doesn’t recount the conversation between Jesus and Zacchaeus, but we know from the response of Zacchaeus, that whatever Jesus said while at his home, had a positive, meaningful impact on the tax collector’s life from that moment on.
A third element evangelizers seek to pinpoint is a spiritual openness. This usually comes after a person trusts us, is curious about Christ and the church, and is now open to having his/her personal and spiritual lives changed by that knowledge and by an encounter with the divine in prayer, whether it be personal or communal. At this time, our role in that person’s life, is to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide the person in accepting their God-given calling, to embrace Jesus’ good news, and to consider how that Good News impacts his/her personal, daily living. Zacchaeus appears to have entered this stage of spiritual development during Jesus’ visit, as afterward, he considers how, his understanding of God’s love for him, impacts how he earns a living.
Once a person has gained trust, has satisfied his/her spiritual curiosity, and has become open to what that means– practically-speaking— then that person is ready for spiritually seeking the living God. It’s during this stage that a seeker moves from being passive observer of God to actively seeking to know God, through-and-through, and to treating God as a trusted friend and confidante, 24/7. For Zacchaeus, that meant giving half his possessions to the poor, and paying back four times as much to anyone whom he had defrauded in the past.
This leads to the final stage of evangelization —intentional discipleship— which is consciously committing to serve Christ as a member of the church and reorienting one’s life around that conscious, deliberate decision. Intentional disciples are ready to share with others what they’ve found in Christ! They’re excited about their faith and want to share it generously and enthusiastically with any and all who will listen! We don’t know how many people Zacchaeus himself may have brought to Christ, but we can imagine that his changed outlook was evident to all who knew him and that some must have been ready to accept that self-same journey of faith because of his changed life! And so, the evangelized becomes another evangelist!
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