Occasionally, Fr Ronan Drury (Editor of “The Furrow”) asks me to contribute homily material for the publication. Most recently he asked me to submit some homilies for the month of November. This is the homily for 31st Sunday of The Year
Yesterday we celebrated All Souls’ Day and, throughout this month, we will remember in a special, on-going and prayerful way all those gone before us “marked with the sign of faith”. In most of our churches and parishes, Altars reserve a special place for the names of our loved ones written on “November Lists” and there will be a variety of remembrance services held throughout the church to recall the lives of those who have died. It is, without doubt, a month as necessary as it is solemn, as hopeful as it is sad and as powerful as it is vulnerable. We do well to remember, to pray, to hear again those precious names and to find direction for our grief and onward journey.
Today we meet Zacchaeus, the low-sized tax collector who wanted desperately to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Feeling neither popular nor tall but anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was he climbed a sycamore tree, hid in its bark and branches and felt he was out of view. How wrong he was ….. What seemed hidden and closed was rendered wide open. The hidden one takes centre stage and is called, by Jesus, from the place of hiding into a deep, lasting and practical friendship – “I must stay at your house today ……”
That “Sycamore” tree speaks to me of casket and coffin. The branches of hiding are the closed and tightened lid. To all it may well seem the one is gone beyond viewing, beyond contact, beyond reach but not so for Jesus. Just as Zacchaeus is seen and called so also, the deceased. There is no hiding place from the Lord. He knows those who are anxious to see him. He knows those from your family, from our parish – from our present and past who have died – and invites them to join him in an eternal friendship.
It’s great the way Zacchaeus hurries from the tree. He knows he’s safe, knows he’s wanted and needed and that life will never be quite the same again. The sycamore was a temporary stop on an on-going journey of faith and discovery. Likewise – the coffin or casket.
Everybody didn’t rejoice with Zacchaeus of course. There were some who resented him, thought him incapable of change and not meriting this special attention. The “little man” knew all too well his faults and went about making amends. There’s no doubt that must have pleased the Lord greatly. “If I’ve cheated anyone ……” It wasn’t too late to make a change to wander a new way. God’s mercy is everlasting to all who call on him, who seek to know him and who journey with him. “Life is changed not ended.”
There’s something going on here, in this month of November, about letting the deceased rest in peace and letting them be “in God”. Something in the old saying about it not being right to speak “ill of the dead” and something too, in our own time, to acknowledge the need for change should it be required.
At the end of the day, the one who climbed the tree to get a bird’s eye view met the Lord face to face. He had nonetheless to have that desire in him – that “pilgrimage” that took him to the heights so that he could come down again, be transformed and raised to a new life.
In this month, we continue to pray for all gone before us in the belief they’ve been noticed in the Sycamore, called down and are now “at table” with The Lord.