Monday, October 31, 2016

The Lesson of Zacchaeus: Discipleship Leads to Stewardship

We’ve reached the third Sunday of our Covenant of One. We’ve talked about time and talent; now we look at how Christian stewards share their treasure, how they look at charitable giving.

Pastors don’t like preaching about money. But some of us are better at it than others, so I called a priest friend for advice.

I told him I wasn’t getting much help from today’s Gospel story of Zacchaeus—the mere mention of a tax collector makes people close their wallets and purses, not open them!

My friend’s offered a simple suggestion: “Oh,” he said, “Just invite the parishioners to give half of their possessions to the poor. By the time they figure out you’re joking, they’ll be thrilled to give an hour’s wages to the Church!”

Joking aside, the meeting between Jesus and Zacchaeus has a great message about discipleship and money.

The story unfolds in four acts: first, the tax collector lets curiosity get the better of him. He made an effort “to see who Jesus was.”

Jesus quickly rewards his tree-climbing courage! In act two of the mini-drama, Jesus calls Zacchaeus by name. Jesus even invites himself to be a guest at his house.

Act three moves just as fast. The impulsive tax collector promises half of his possessions to the poor, and fourfold restitution to those he’s cheated. From what we know of tax collectors at the time, Zacchaeus isn’t going to have a whole lot left over when he’s finished.

The final act contains the message for us today. Right after the tax collector makes his promise, Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house.” Salvation came to Zacchaeus because he met and welcomed Jesus, not because he gave away half of all he owned. But Zacchaeus showed he’d received the gift of salvation by letting go of his wealth.

You can’t buy salvation, but what we do with our money is an excellent test of whether we know we’re saved.

Stewardship of our finances and sacrificial support of the Church and other good works does not make someone a disciple. But real disciples become, almost inevitably, financial stewards and sacrificial donors. I didn’t learn this is the seminary or read it in a book; the generous parishioners of this parish taught me that lesson.

I’ll bet you think this homily’s just my way to increase the collection and Project Advance. Please hear me out: I am not asking you for money. I am asking you to ask yourself: does my stewardship of money reveal that salvation has come to my house.

Has Jesus invited himself to stay with you? If so, have you welcomed him?

Obviously, the Lord didn’t walk by, call you out of your tree, and unpack in your guestroom. But he wants to stay in your heart—to dwell there as he promised. He wants to do the same thing for you that he did for Zacchaeus—to awaken “new possibilities of love and service.” [The Collegeville Bible Commentary, p. 970]

There’s what these the three Sundays of our Covenant of One series are all about—allowing a relationship with Jesus to awaken new possibilities of love and service in our lives. On the first Sunday, we asked ourselves “Has knowing Jesus challenged me to sacrifice some time to welcome him lovingly in prayer?” On the second, we asked “Has knowing him inspired me to greater service, using my talents for others?”

The answers to those questions are measurable. Are we giving an hour to love and service, an hour each week to sharing time and talent?

The third question, “Am I offering an hour’s wages to the Lord?” is the easiest to measure. Perhaps it’s the least important. Still, Jesus said the tax collector’s decisions about money proved his conversion was sincere and real.

Today we ask the Lord to do for us what he did for Zacchaeus—to meet us, to stay with us, and to open new possibilities of love and service in us.

Our lives are confusing, even chaotic, at times. We can’t all be as decisive and bold as Zacchaeus, although we recently lost a wonderful parishioner, the late Ernest Bunderla, who could climb the tallest tree in the neighborhood. We’re each called to discipleship in a different way, but we’re all called to the same salvation in Christ.

Today I want to recognize the spirit of discipleship that so many of you have shown in your support of our annual Project Advance campaign and the Sunday collection. It’s a measurable sign of the strength of this parish community.

I also want to challenge others who haven’t yet made the connection between sacrificial giving and discipleship that Zacchaeus showed. If you haven’t supported our annual Project Advance campaign, be as impetuous—if not as generous—as that tax collector!

I invite you to make a donation this Sunday or next—before the Year of Mercy ends. The campaign has a special aspect this year, since it supports the spiritual and corporal works of mercy we’ve chosen to do as a parish, along with usual bricks and mortar projects.

You can help the Harvest Project to clothe the naked, and our prison ministry volunteers to visit prisoners; help parishioners in need with counselling and funeral expenses; strengthen the parish’s mission to those who want to see Jesus.

Certainly, I want Project Advance to succeed, and we’re within sight of our goal. But most of all, I want every parishioner to experience the genuine joys of stewardship.

Let me close with a true story, since I made up the one I told at the beginning of the homily! The other day I met a fine gentlemen I hadn’t seen since I celebrated his mother’s funeral in 2010. He’s passionate about Christian stewardship, and he actually built a church in his mother’s honour in her native Hungary while she was still alive.

It was natural that we got on the subject of money and discipleship. We had a great conversation, and he said something I won’t forget: “We learn in grade one that it’s better to give than to receive—it just takes about fifty years to figure it out.”

There’s a lot of truth in that, but Zacchaeus didn’t take fifty years. He didn't take fifty minutes
he figured it out in five. Let’s ask Jesus to make all of us such quick learners.

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