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Exploring the Word (Archive)

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 

30 October 2022


Jerusalem Bible © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday & Company Inc.

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

(Luke 19:1–10) 

Did you know? 

Points of interest and Catholic lore 
  • The name Zacchaeus means ‘pure’ but the actions of this wealthy tax collector belied such a name and earnt him the title of ‘sinner’.
  • Jesus addresses Zacchaeus as ‘son of Abraham’, a title usually reserved for the holy or pious ones. Jesus is clearly indicating that Zacchaeus is as good as anyone else.
  • Jericho lies in the Jordan Valley, just 6 miles north of the Dead Sea, and so has a milder climate than the surrounding barren hills. Herod built a lavish winter palace here.
  • The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem is almost complete. Jericho is the last town to be passed through before the steep ascent to Jerusalem.

Exploring the Word 

This text should be contrasted with the story of the rich official who is a righteous man that comes just before it (Luke 18:18–23) but that is not included in the Lectionary readings for this year. In that text, Jesus challenges the rich man to sell all he has and to distribute the proceeds to the poor, but the rich man is unable to give up his wealth. Here, Zacchaeus—also a rich man but considered a sinner—spontaneously offers to give half his wealth away and to make generous restitution to those he has cheated. The response to Jesus of these two characters is in stark contrast. In his undignified climbing of the tree, Zacchaeus is prepared to make himself look ridiculous in order to know Jesus. He has humbled himself in the eyes of the crowd just as the tax collector humbled himself in the temple in last week’s gospel. Jesus not only tells parables but lives them in reality. He has searched out the lost, and the encounter leads to conversion and salvation.

  • Have you experienced an element of personal embarrassment because of your decision to approach Jesus through the catechumenate?
  • How might a sense of being accepted by God bring about change in your life?

Making connections 

Opportunities for group discussion and personal prayer 
  • Are you anxious to discover Jesus?
  • To what lengths would you go?
  • How do you welcome Jesus joyfully?
  • Recall an experience of being overlooked or feeling left out. Alternatively, share an experience of being singled out or chosen for something very special.
  • Identify someone with whom you are acquainted but whom you don’t really know well. Try to move beyond superficial appearances and find out what sort of person they really are. Change your relationship with them.
  • At each Eucharist we pray:
    Lord, I am not worthy 
    that you should enter under my roof,
    but only say the word
    and my soul shall be healed.

Pray this often this week.

Sharing the tradition 

A closer look at the Scripture of the day, to see how it makes more explicit God’s word to us through the teachings of Jesus Christ 

Zacchaeus is labelled a sinner but he repents of his sin and is offered salvation. The Church teaches that the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve in the garden was a choice for themselves and against God (CCC, §398) and that this selfish choice has had implications for all humankind (§402). Self-centeredness marks the lives of all human beings to a greater or lesser extent. 

  • You could explore the notion of ‘sinful humanity’ further. It is important to note that sin is not simply a personal choice but can also have a communal or social dimension.
  • Where do we see the effects of the sin of human selfishness in our world?
  • With repentance comes God’s forgiveness and the restoration of our relationship with God. Within the Church, this forgiveness and restoration is offered through the sacrament of reconciliation.
  • Where do you experience forgiveness and restoration?
  • You could introduce the sacrament of reconciliation if you have not already done so.

Zacchaeus goes out of his way to encounter Jesus—the equivalent of presenting oneself for the sacrament of reconciliation. Zacchaeus acknowledges his sin and proposes to make amends—the equivalent of confession and penance. (See CCC, §§1422–1470).

  • Look at the structure and prayers of the rite of reconciliation and use them as a basis for discussion and questions.

Symbols and images 

Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus led him to reassess the way he lived in the world and the way he related to those around him. He repented his past wrongs, made restitution and entered into a new way of being. This same journey is the one to which baptism into the Church calls all believers.

Living the Word 

Practical ideas for group leaders to employ in connecting Scripture and daily life, with suggestions for music and environment 
  • In what ways does your community make public demonstrations of faith—for example, a Way of the Cross through the streets at Easter, a nativity play, or celebration of a feast? Discuss how the wider secular community may view such public religious actions. Are there ways for catechumens to be involved?
  • Use the open Scriptures as a focus for prayer. Pray for the forgiveness of past transgressions. Pray for each other as you seek Jesus. A suitable song could be ‘Return to God’ (GA 304). Conclude with the prayer of exorcism in the RCIA at §94K, which speaks of coming to salvation.
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