Responding to God’s Mercy

Homily by Deacon Greg Maskarinec – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

My reflection on the readings for this Sunday coincided with the sudden death of a dear friend and spiritual confidant Sister Anne Joseph Palmer, Religious of the Assumption.  Sister Anne loved children, so much so that she studied to be a Montessori school teacher and co-founded a Montessori school in West Philadelphia.  She taught the underprivileged there for over 30 years.  Sister Anne also taught art classes for many years at John F. Kennedy Behavioral Heath Center in Philadelphia and organized art shows for her students.  She taught English as a Second Language to immigrants.  Sister Anne’s life was a work of mercy in which she ministered to the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual needs of others.  Reflecting upon the readings for this week I couldn’t help but think how Sister Anne had lived her life in conformity with the command to be merciful, just as the Father is merciful.

Today’s Gospel reading of “Zacchaeus the Tax Collector” illustrates some important points about mercy.  First, there are two types of mercy.  One type of mercy is shown by one human being to another.  It is the mercy that Jesus, who is fully human, displayed in his initial encounter with Zacchaeus the tax collector.  Tax collectors were known to collect more tax than they paid out to the Roman authorities.  It’s likely that Zacchaeus obtained his wealth be cheating his fellow Jews and as a result didn’t have many friends.  When Jesus initiated a dialogue with Zacchaeus and expressed his desire to stay with him, it may have been the first time in a very long time that Zacchaeus was treated, not as an outcast, but as someone whose company was desirable by another human being.  By his words, Jesus mercifully reached out to Zachaeus and reconnected him with humanity.

The other type of mercy is shown by God to a human person.  It’s the mercy that Jesus, who is also fully God, proclaimed to Zacchaeus at the time of the passage, “Today savlation has come to this house”.   It’s also the mercy spoken of in today’s readings from the Book of Wisdom and the Psalms.   Divine mercy is the act of God reaching out with compassion to deliver humanity from whatever enslaves us and separates us form God.  Salvation is the deliverance from sin, guilt, suffering, or death and is only possible through God and his infinite Mercy.

The second point about mercy, most especially God’s mercy, is that it is offered to everyone, even to the least expected.  Zacchaeus was a “sinner’ in the eyes of people and they grumbled against Jesus who had gone to stay at the house of a sinner.  But we are all sinners.  Not one of us in worthy of God’s mercy by our own merits.  We all find ourselves “up a tree”, not worthy to come down and have Jesus stay with us.  Yet Jesus, the Son of Man, comes to seek us out and to save us, no matter what we’ve done in the past.   My sisters and brothers, this is the good news of the Gospel!

The third point about mercy is that it enable us, in turn, to be merciful.  Note how Zacchaeus’ life changed a the simple words of acceptance by Jesus.  Once a tax collector, a sinner, and a wealthy man who had little concern for the poor, Zacchaeus conformed his life to the message of Jesus.  He shared what he had with the poor.  He made amends for his former sins by repaying those he had cheated.  In fact, the name “Zacchaeus” is a form of Hebrew name which means “clean” or “innocent”.   Upon the acceptance of God’s mercy, Zacchaeus’ condition now coincided with his name.  You see, God constantly reaches out in order to help us become the person He created us to be.

We come here this morning as recipients of mercy.  Mercy shown to us by others.  And no matter who we are no matter what we’ve done, we are all the recipients of divine mercy from God.  My friend, Sister Anne and Zacchaeus are examples of those who have chosen to respond o the divine mercy in their lives by conforming their lives to Christ.  No the choice is ours.  If we reject God’s mercy we will grow cold and merciless.  But, if we accept and respond to God’s mercy by conforming our lives to Christ, we too will become the person God created us to be…an image and likeness of God Himself!