Thirty-First Sunday 2019
ADMISSION TO MINISTRY OF LECTOR AND CANDIDACY FOR DIACONATE
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Church of the Holy Spirit, Ballyroan, 2 November 2019
“In our Gospel reading, we encounter the figure of the chief tax collectorZacchaeus, who as the reading says, “is anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was”.
What kind of man is Jesus? Who is Jesus and where do we look for him? This is a fundamental question that has been asked over the centuries and is still being asked today. Each of us as believers has indeed to ask and re–ask that question to ensure that the Jesus we think of is really the Jesus of the Gospel, the one who comes to teach us who the God of love is. That real Jesus never leaves us rest easily. Faith is a continuous challenge to fathom something that goes beyond our human understanding but is in fact real.
Where do we encounter the God of love? We encounter him in the Church. Now there are many who will immediately say quite the opposite. How often do I hear, “I believe in God, but not in the Church”! Many have had negative experiences with the Church, experiences that do not lead them to understand God as a God of Love. The Church that preaches the God of lovehas indeed often been a harsh, judgemental Church.
Others will have come to define the God of love in terms of their own understanding of love. This can often be only a superficial or a self-serving understanding of what love is about. They can be looking for the God of love while surrounded and infected by a false culture of love.
Can the Zacchaeus of today’s Gospel be an indication of the way to come to the God of love? The immediate reaction would be surprise at any such suggestion. Zacchaeus was someone who made his money and indeed muchmoney in a dishonest way as a leader among the tax collectors. These tax collectors were fiercely opposed to Jesus, constantly trying to put him to the test. Yet there is something in this particular public sinner that “wants to see what Jesus was like”.
Zacchaeus overcomes his natural reticence to be seen by his peers as someone attracted by the Jesus they disdain. Because of his small height, he climbs a tree. He overcomes his embarrassment at perhaps looking ridiculous in front of others. Excitedly climbing up a tree was not what was expected of a respectable man in his position. There is however something in his heart which is challenging him to look farther.
In the midst of such a large crowd, Jesus sees Zacchaeus. Jesus is the one who always notes what is burning in the hearts of others. Jesus calls him, asks him to come down, and says he wishes to spend the night in Zacchaeus’ house.The crowd is scandalised.
In this incident, the Gospel is mysteriously saying to us that the true identity of Jesus is discovered in the house of a sinner, while the respectable religious leaders and the crowd only complain. They murmur, “Jesus has gone to eat with sinners” They refuse to recognise the freedom that Jesus shows and his ability to reach out in what for them were unconventional ways, indeed reprehensible ways. For them the identity of God remains entrapped in their web of rules and norms and rituals. Jesus however came not to entrap but to liberate and his way of liberate challenges and surprises us.
One of the reasons why so many people today find it hard to come to know Jesus and allow themselves to experience his love and forgiveness is that the Church is not experienced as the place where people are saved. So often believers present themselves as the saved, but saved on their own terms and their lives do not reflect the freedom of the children of God.
How many of those who are lost in today’s world experience us as a community of believers who reach out to them and who welcome those who arelost into the warmth of a community of mercy of forgiveness and hope.
The crowd see in Zacchaeus just a sinner, but Jesus looks at him with hismerciful gaze and recognises him as a son of Abraham capable of experiencing conversion and changing his life.
At our Mass this evening, we have a particular liturgical rite. It involves a group of eight men, one a parishioner here, preparing for the permanent diaconate in our diocese who will be commissioned as lectors of the word of God, and one candidate to the deaconate on his way to priesthood who will be formally admitted as a candidate in that path of formation. We accompany these men on their respective paths with our prayers.
We also reflect on what ministry means in the Church today. Ourunderstanding of mission and ministry is changing. We are all missionary disciples of Jesus. We are missionary disciples of Jesus by the witness of our lives. At the end of the Mass we are told “Go in peace; glorify the Lord by the way you live”. From Mass in the Church building we are sent out into the world as missionary disciples. We witness to Jesus Christ in our role as parents, in the community and the world of work, in generosity and in society. We witness to Jesus Christ in our commitment to the sick and the poor and in our care for God’s creation.
All of us are called to be missionary disciples of Jesus. Some are called to special ministries, like deacon or priest, who are gathered around the bishop especially in the celebration of the sacraments. We have in Dublin parish pastoral workers, lay men and women, who assist in our parishes. We have catechists who teach children and adults in developing their faith. Each of these ministries or callings is part of the presence of the Church in our society.
We all have in common the task of, through the way we live, challenging the people of our time to come to ask the question about “what kind of man Jesus is” and to help people recognise that Jesus is the one who always notes what is burning in the hearts of others.
The variety of ministries is not simply a way to address the fall in the number of priests. The priest maintains his special function and we need more priests who will lead the people in prayer, in the sacraments and in the Eucharist and who in turn will be led by the faith and devotion of the people. We need priests to lead our communities but we know that vocations to the priesthood have their roots in the faith of the believing community.
As members of a believing community, we are called to be continually alert to the word of God challenging us to discern as Zacchaeus did “what kind of man Jesus is” and the difference he makes to our life.”