31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

FROM WHAT DO WE NEED SAVING?

By Emily VanBerkum (Student at the Faculty of Theology)

This week’s gospel reading is about Jesus’ gift of salvation. During Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, he stops briefly in Jericho and encounters Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, sitting in a sycamore tree. Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the tree and boldly invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home. Jesus’ mercy and generosity understandably upset the crowd since they branded Zacchaeus a sinner because of his greed for money and earthly possession. Of course, this is not the first instance in the Gospels in which Jesus’ actions confuse his followers. Yet in this instance, Zacchaeus repents. He blurs the boundaries between the stereotypes of a tax collector and a man who genuinely desires to heed Jesus’ invitation to discipleship.

Jesus accepts this repentance by declaring that, “Today salvation has come to his house.” This answers why Jesus chose Zacchaeus as an unlikely host. In other words, this seemingly impossible act of welcome is a prime example of the Son of Man’s mission to seek out the lost and save them through the awesome gift of salvation. But from what exactly did Zacchaeus need saving? Zacchaeus straddles the two worlds that many of us struggle to define in our lives. Zacchaeus is a wealthy man who gained a reputation for sinfulness because of his attachment to worldly possessions. Zacchaeus needed to find the confidence to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation and he did so in practical terms by giving half of his goods to the poor. By welcoming Jesus into his home, Zacchaeus knew that Jesus had also entered his heart.

Like Zacchaeus, we discover that clinging to worldly possessions and wealth comes at great expense. Our hearts must be open to God if we are to receive his gifts of redemption and grace freely. What Zacchaeus was willing to “give up” could not compare to his truly life changing decision to be saved by Jesus. What worldly possessions distract you from fully appreciating Jesus’ gift of salvation?

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A FEW WORDS

By Lucinda M. Vardey (Parishioner, Contemplative Women of St. Anne)

As in most of Jesus’ parables, it takes only a few words to make a number of points. The self-confident Pharisee, standing in formal piety, was separated in his thoughts and prayer from not only a merciful God but those different from him. The tax collector, on the other hand, was empty of any feeling of worth and by uttering a few sincere words allowed space for God to work in his soul.

Jesus places both men in the extreme: they were far from each other in society and, according to the Pharisee, far from each other in capabilities of worship.  But Jesus could also be indicating that prayer is not a competition. It’s not about how many words and how many times we recite them, but how we turn up, the attitude with which we enter into prayer, the state of our hearts in relating to God and those who pray alongside us.

The tax collector’s few humble words can be seen as an acknowledgment that all things are from God and in God, and without the grace of God’s mercy we are unable to change for the better and begin again anew.  The prayer of the Mass follows the same course: we start with confession and repentance.  By requesting the mercy of God we then raise our voices united in the Gloria, the praise and thanksgiving that indeed is “The prayer of the humble” that “ pierces the clouds.” (Sirach 35: 21).

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

ON HOLY GROUND, TOGETHER

By John Dalla Costa (Parishioner)

If we seek a sign for stewardship, or desire scriptural guidance for participative ministry, we can’t do better than with today’s first reading from Exodus. With outstretched arms Moses transmits God’s grace to Israel. Yet at this moment of crisis the need is overwhelming. On his own, Moses can only do so much. So others in the community improvise. Audaciously, they too assume the holy stance, supporting Moses’ arms so that the people would continue receiving consecration.

Stewardship is a shared vocation. As with Aaron and Hur assisting Moses, there are times when ministry to community hinges on our bringing personal strengths, gifts and talents to bear on the outcome.

Baptism confers this priestly potential in each of us. But assuming this vocation cannot be ad hoc. Writing to his acolyte Timothy, Paul describes on-the-job training for stewards. Jesus is our model, and aim: his presence in our lives, through faith, guides us in understanding our role in serving God’s church. Paul also points to scripture “for training in righteousness,” to gain proficiency as teachers, mediators, conflict-healers, and to be “equipped for every good work.”

Proximity to holiness is a privilege not to be taken lightly. “Pray always” Jesus told his disciples, and do not “lose heart.” Today’s parable cautions that help is not available on-demand. God is not an ATM. But Jesus assures us that steady, constant, continuous prayer works profoundly. It’s not that repetition wears God down, but rather that such habits of prayer prepare us to receive vocation, and the abundant grace for fulfilling its duties.