Scripture Readings for November 21, 2017
Today’s Gospel is about how Zacchaeus, a very rich man, forgets about his wealthy trappings and climbs a tree just to get a look at Jesus and then is changed when Jesus comes to his house. It is a story that says if Jesus comes to stay with us anything is possible. Even rich people will become generous. It says salvation is the work of God.
So maybe we should look at the first reading to see what it might tell us and perhaps it will add something to the Gospel story. The reading from Maccabees is very focused and detailed. It tells us about one incident in the life of one man. Eleazar, an old man and a scribe, is asked to eat the pork of a pagan sacrificial offering. He is respected and a friend of the king’s officials and they give him a way to get around the king’s rules. They offer him a way out … bring some of your own meat and pretend it is from the sacrifice. Eleazar however understands how pretending to comply compromises everything he stands for. To pretend to eat the forbidden meat although not actually doing it is to say that the king’s rules are more important than what God asks. It sounds like a clever legal maneuver. Look like you’re complying but don’t actually do what is being asked and therefore satisfy your conscience while giving the larger society what it demands, the appearance of compliance.
His friends are trying to help but they don’t understand the deeper issue. For Eleazar’s friends it’s only appearance that counts. So if you look like you’re doing the things others expect then even if you’re actually doing something else, who cares? I think we see a lot of this today. Public figures in sports, politics, and entertainment seem to only be concerned with appearances. What records they can break, whether they are elect-able, what the press says about them, that is what counts not their actual behavior or positions or values. Each situation seems to be guided solely by how much a person can get away with. Clever words and phrases seem to do a slight of hand. They spin the facts. Public behavior like that suggests we would be foolish not to act the same way.
It is here that I think we can connect with our friend Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus the rich man was changed by having Jesus come to his house but Zacchaeus showed who he was long before Jesus actually came to his house. Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector, certainly didn’t worry about what people would think when he started running ahead of the crowd and enthusiastically climbed a tree. Zacchaeus acted on something that called him to discover what was new with this Jesus. Zacchaeus, like Eleazar, wasn’t constrained by what his friends in high places would say. He wasn’t guided by appearances. He didn’t have to give up his life like Eleazar but he was abandoning any pretense of reserve or wealthy position or even ordinary decorum Zacchaeus went with his heart, his excitement. His unabashed eagerness took him to a new life. In much the same way, Eleazar’s enthusiasm for God took him to a new life.
We may never be asked to give up our life as a sacrifice to be Christian but we may have to reveal and act openly on the commitments we have and the values we hold. Let’s pray we can break from the crowd and climb whatever it takes so we will be able to see what life is asking of us.