Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, October 22, 2010

“Jesus looked up and said to Zacchaeus, ‘Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:5, 10)

 October 31, 2010
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 19:1-10 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC


While we Christians have been assured that God wants to be with us in our everyday lives and, indeed, to be our daily bread, still do revelations of God’s abiding presence surprise us, for he seems to come at the oddest moments and in the strangest fashion. Yes, regularly does God remind us that our notions of him and his ways are, if not totally wrong, then at least severely flawed. Such was the lesson at the heart of the story Harold told several of us gathered over coffee in the hospital cafeteria one recent morning.

A seasoned chaplain in the Reformed Church tradition and likewise a master story-teller, Harold has, over the years, preached powerfully to his hospital colleagues through personal stories that always seem, in the end, to speak far more of God than of Harold. Such again was the case this very morning as three of us shared coffee with him.

“Reminds me of going fishing with my grandfather,” Harold began. “Grandpa was a severe old German, couldn’t abide kids, and all us grandchildren were terrified of him. Whenever we visited, we sat quietly out of the way, didn’t say a word unless spoken to, and otherwise tried to be invisible. He’d scowl at us and we’d quiver. But I seemed to be the only grandchild of the bunch who could see through it. I wasn’t afraid of his bluster. I guess maybe that’s why he invited me one day to go fishing with him.” At this, Harold picked up his coffee cup and took a slow sip as he watched the three of us hanging expectantly mid-story. He smiled.

“I was only 7 or 8 years old at time, didn’t know anything about fishing, and though I was excited about the adventure, I was still kind of wary of Grandpa. As we neared the creek, he stopped me and put a finger to his lips, signaling me to be as quiet as possible so as not to scare the fish away. Almost on tiptoe, Grandpa and I approached the creek, not a sound coming from our lips as we watched where we stepped, avoiding even the crunch of a leaf or the crack of a twig. It was as silent as death as we neared Grandpa’s favorite fishing spot.”  Here, Harold stopped again, sipped more coffee and watched as we three listeners hung in anticipation.

“We were right at creek’s edge, careful even to avoid our shadow falling upon the gently flowing waters.” A pause as Harold let out a long sigh. “Well, I slipped on the muddy bank, let out a scream every fish for miles around could hear and fell face first with arms flung wide right into the creek.

“Grandpa didn’t say a word, didn’t come to rescue me either. I got myself up, came out of the water dripping and shivering, and I remember him wordlessly pointing to a grassy place in the sunlight. Motioning me to sit there, he just shook his head in disgust as he baited a hook and cast his line into the creek, sure that my mishap had cursed any chance he might have had of catching anything at all that day. Well…”

Bringing the coffee cup to his lips, Harold let us simmer in suspense for a moment. “Grandpa’s line was in the water for less than 30 seconds and he got a bite – reeled in a trout that made even his old eyes dazzle. Then he cast again and got another one. And it happened a third time. By the time we left the creek, Grandpa still wasn’t speaking to me, but he was smiling. We got home, and I was still pretty damp, and when my mother asked Grandpa what had happened to me, he ignored her question completely, informing her, rather, that he’d be taking me along on future fishing trips. To this day, I’m not sure if Grandpa had determined I was good luck or just bait!”

The gospel passage we hear today offers another sort of fishing story, this one with an ending even more surprising than Harold’s. Zacchaeus, a man short of stature but tall in public contempt since he was the chief tax collector, is hoping to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passes through the town. Climbing a tree to gain advantage, “Jesus looked up and said to Zacchaeus, ‘Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:5, 10) And, indeed, Zacchaeus got a whole lot more than he’d cast his line for. More than a mere glimpse of Jesus, Zacchaeus received him as a guest in his house – a life-changing encounter for sure!

That Zacchaeus story plays out again and again as God’s saving presence enters our lives in ways both surprising and mysterious. It was the lesson Harold’s Grandpa learned when the imagined curse of his grandson’s noisy presence at creek side became, rather, a blessing. And old Grandpa recognized it at once, for Harold was to accompany the severe old German on many more fishing trips. It didn’t end there, either, as Harold related with the last sip from his coffee cup.

“When I was older, late teens, I think, I got a motorcycle, and one day I pulled into Grandpa’s driveway. He was wearing his usual scornful expression, but after a few seconds he took a step toward me, looked up and down the street to make sure no neighbors were watching, then blustered, ‘Darn fool, riding that thing!’

“Seeing right through him, I invited him to hop on for a ride. He did. We whizzed through town. Neighbors recognized the severe old German on the bike and just scratched their heads. We did it a few more times. Grandpa never let on how much he enjoyed it.”

Yes, he enters our lives in surprise and mystery – a little kid splashing in a creek, a teenager on a roaring motorcycle – God saving us from ourselves.



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