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Jaime L. WatersOctober 21, 2022
small altar with orange flowers around with cross and smoke in the middle, some dia de los muertos items on the altar in front of the crossPhoto via iStock.

We commemorate the solemnities of All Saints and All Souls this week. The liturgical calendar reminds us to reflect intentionally on those who have died and to see ourselves in communion with them, even as we are still alive. Remembering saints and departed souls, especially our loved ones, can give us inspiration, guidance, peace and intercession. The tone and style of such reflections can vary from very solemn to very festive, particularly in cultural expressions such as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). For a week in which death features prominently, we can use this time to reflect on how we can improve ourselves and live better lives. The Gospel for this Sunday gives us an example of personal growth, repentance and transformation that can inspire our actions.

“He came down quickly and received him with joy” (Lk 19:6).

Liturgical day
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 11:22-12:2, Ps 145, 2 Thes 1:11-2:2, Lk 19:1-10

What will you do to commemorate those who have died?

How can you help to correct injustice in society?

From what actions do you need to repent?

In the Gospel reading from Luke, we hear the narrative of Jesus and Zacchaeus, a man who is a wealthy tax collector who apparently has not dealt fairly in his community. The interaction between the two figures is notable as Jesus helps to facilitate Zacchaeus’ growth, yet Zacchaeus also shows initiative and awareness that can serve as an example for us.

As Jesus approaches, Zacchaeus rushes to climb a tree so that he can see him, showing his interest and eagerness. Jesus reaches out to this wealthy tax collector and demands hospitality, telling him that he “must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus hurriedly and joyfully responds by serving him.

Zacchaeus’ response calls to mind Abraham’s actions when he is visited by divine messengers (Gen 18:1-8). Abraham, similarly, rushes with Sarah and a servant to prepare a meal for the guests, offering them choice meat and bread. Ultimately, these guests proclaim that Abraham and Sarah would have a son, Isaac.

Zacchaeus makes a proclamation himself after he offers Jesus hospitality. He confesses that he has not always dealt fairly in his life, but he has made amends and repents for his actions:

“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

While we focus on the dead this week, today’s Gospel reminds us to focus on how we are living.

Zacchaeus demonstrates how he can use his financial resources to help those in need. More explicitly, he redistributes his wealth to help to fix an unjust system from which he has personally profited. In addition, he commits to making restitution. Not only does he promise to give away his possessions, but also repay four times what he has taken unjustly, building in a penalty and additional compensation to those he has wronged. Zacchaeus models how to address systemic financial failures by acting decisively in ways that help correct corruption. As financial injustice persists today, the Gospel should inspire determined action to fix what is clearly broken.

The actions of Zacchaeus are bold and would change his life and the lives of those in his community. Yet, as also can happen today, there were naysayers who focused more on Jesus’ association with a corrupt figure rather than the act of repentance and transformation that was happening.

Jesus’ response is powerful and telling. He invokes Abraham, noting Zacchaus is a part of the Abrahamic family. Jesus also highlights salvation and repentance:

“Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus’ response reminds us that repentance is possible and necessary for salvation. The interest in saving those who are lost recalls the parables of the lost items, such as the sheep, coin and son (Lk 15:1-32). While we focus on the dead this week, today’s Gospel reminds us to focus on how we are living. It calls for a personal eagerness and openness to encounter Jesus and a commitment to turning away from sin and making recompense for past actions.

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