Rv 3:1-6,14-22; Ps 15:2-5; Lk 19:1-10
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was like a tree planted near running water. It was the refreshing water of the Holy Spirit that moved her to deep compassion in Christ through her life of profound prayer and loving service. This royal woman could have had the life of luxury to which her birth entitled her, but she did not follow the counsel of the wicked and more worldly relatives who threatened her comfort and threw her out of the palace when her husband died in the crusades. She did not become bitter at her misfortune and gave herself even more to the Lord Jesus and she grew in virtue. Even after her husbands fellow crusaders returned her to the palace, she did not cease being generous to all who came to her in need. Her true delight was in the law of the LORD, and she meditated on his word day and night. Indeed, she became the fruitful tree whose leaves never fade. The poor and neglected were fed at this tree of life. She was so admired and loved by the commoner and wealthy alike that after only 24 years of life, she was canonized four years after her death. Saint Elizabeth did not fall from her first love, and her lamp stand still shines brightly in the courts of her Blessed Lord. With Saint Elizabeth and all the saints in glory, we have come to this liturgy that we might learn how to pray from the cries of the blind man on the road to Jericho, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
This last book of the Bible is read aloud to bless the reader and those who listen during the last days of the liturgical year. In two weeks we will begin another Advent and another liturgical year. This is a blessed time to reflect upon our call to holiness in Christ Jesus who greets us with grace and peace. The Church in Ephesus is praised for its generosity and sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. These believers have grown strong in their endurance and have not tolerated the wicked. Indeed, they have tested the false apostles and found them lacking in truth. This lack of tolerance for sin would not make them popular back then; our lack of tolerance for sin and vice makes us unpopular even today. As one of the unpopular preachers today teaches, “I love all of you, but I will not let you lead me into hell.” Each of us is called to a prophetic lifestyle and witness. We are to love sinners while hating sin. We cannot just stand by and not challenge our brothers and sisters to turn from sin and grow in virtue. Such a radical Christianity is not popular in our world that allows religion to have a private place in human life. Our tolerant society has no tolerance for the challenge of Christ. When we live out of our first love, we become unpopular. We are labeled intolerant and even radical, meaning dangerous. By growing in love of Christ, our first love, we learn how to love sinners. In loving sinners we want what is best for them; we want them to enjoy the abundant life promised by the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Anything less, anything more tolerant, is not love. In these final weeks of the liturgical year the Word of God summons us to repent of our lack of love for Christ and all for whom he came to suffer and die.
The blind man on the road to Jericho had heard the stories of the Lord Jesus and knew in his heart that this healer and preacher would show him compassion. His faith in the Lord Jesus is revealed in his prayerful cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” This poor and powerless man could see what the crowd could not see. They saw themselves as doing the Lord Jesus a favor by trying to keep this man from interrupting his journey to Jericho and beyond. Jericho was the city that was blind to the coming of God’s People; they choose to oppose the LORD and his holy people from their conquering journey. Their blindness became the source of their fall. The walls of resistance came tumbling down before the triumphant armies of Joshua. Only the harlot, Rahab, had eyes of faith to see and an honest heart to recognize the movement of God in history. The crowds inherited the blindness of the city Jericho; the bind man inherited the faith of Rahab, the ancestor of David. The Lord Jesus, the faithful Son of David, praises the faith of the blind man. Indeed, his faith has saved him and given sight to countless generations of believers who follow the Lord through Jericho and onto Jerusalem. In this city of destiny the Lord Jesus will encounter the blind crowds and the sightless leaders. Outside the wall of the City of David, the Lord Jesus will cry out from his cross, “Father forgive them; they are blind!” Still, we are blind. Still we have fallen from our first love. Still we need the compassion of saints like Elizabeth of Hungary. Still we need to learn how to cry out in our blindness, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
We are on a journey of faith. We have just enough light to take the next step on this journey. Our light is faith, and we walk by faith not by sight. We are on the way with the victor, the Lord Jesus Christ, and with him we will sit at the right hand of the Father. Our ancestors in the faith came seeking truth in the heart and the strength to never slander with their tongues. They sought to never harm their fellow man, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors. All the holy ones despised the ways of the reprobate and honored those who fear the LORD. They lent money without oppressive interest and accepted no bribe against the innocent. Such a life of virtue enabled them to live in holiness and never be disturbed. Even today such a lifestyle gives rise to the desire to journey to Rome and pray with those holy witnesses who have gone on before us. Even today we are dressed in white and are worthy to walk with the Lord Jesus as he leads us to glory, at the right hand of the Father. Even today the Lord Jesus comes to our house and seeks out all who are lost.
We are exhorted to listen to the voice of the Lord. We cannot continue our journey of faith unless we pay attention to Saint John the Divine. Indeed, his written messages to the churches in Sardis and in Laodicea are instructions for our own journey of faith. Like those in Sardis, we too easily live on our reputation of being alive, but we are dead. All our growth in virtue is just another act of self- righteousness unless we are humble enough to repent. If we repent, we strengthen what is left so that our works may be complete in the sight of God. All our good works are incomplete without faith, without the intimacy of prayer. By faith we recognize any goodness in us belongs to the LORD. He alone is our strength and our salvation; we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. Any among us who have not soiled our garments walk with the Victor Christ. We wear his white garment and walk with him into the presence of the Father and his angels. Such is the abundant life of those who hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Yet, an even greater danger to the life of a disciple is exposed in the letter to the Church in Laodicea. Indeed, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation knows us better than we know ourselves, and he sees into our hearts. He knows that we are neither cold nor hot. We are so often lukewarm. We are so easily subject to the noonday devil. We so readily foster the vice of sloth. We think wrongly that we need nothing and no one, yet we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. Such an exposition of our true self is painful and could result in despair. However, the Lord Jesus has gold for us to buy, to make us truly rich. This gold is tested in the fire of suffering and is pure and priceless. He also offers us white garments to cover our shameful nakedness. The Lord Jesus has ointment for us to smear on our eyes so that we may no longer be blind to the things that really matter. His love provides all we need when we open the door of our hearts to him. Then will he enter in and dine with us, and he will give us a place next to him on his throne. There he promises to all who repent a share in his victory upon the throne of the cross. “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Zacchaeus was high on the social ladder, but he was short of stature. He had everything in this world, everything except love and respect from his brothers and sisters. Everyone loved to hate him, his taxes, and most of all his loyalty to the oppressive Roman Empire. Yes, Zacchaeus could see far and near; he was a man connected and well positioned in society. However, he was short of stature. He longed to see who Jesus was. He longed to see what the crowd was seeing. The Lord Jesus was about to pass through Jericho. Suddenly this man of power and prestige acted like a crazed member of some teen idol fan club. He did what no man of his stature in society would ever do. He climbed up the sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. When the Lord Jesus saw this silly man perched on a branch, when he saw Zacchaeus risking what little dignity he had to catch a glimpse of him, he stopped and looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Come down and let me enjoy your hospitality, all my friends and me. The crowd could not hold back their envy or their wagging tongues. Why would the Lord Jesus give this tax collector, this traitor, any attention? This grumbling provoked Zacchaeus to conversion. He was willing to give up his position of power and share in the life of the community that had so rejected him. He too was a descendant of Abraham, and he recognized his absolute need for a savior. The Lord Jesus points to his swift repentance as a sign for everyone in the crowd to repent. If the Lord Jesus came into a poor rich man’s house and brought him true joy and new membership among the descendants of Abraham, why would anyone refuse the Son of Man who has come to seek and save what was lost? He is among us to share this divine and mystical supper we call the Eucharist. He comes in Holy Communion to fulfill our deepest desire. He comes to receive our sincere and total repentance. What are we waiting for?