21 Pentecost, Year C: Overcome the Crowd

SUNDAY’S READINGS | October 30, 2022

Hab. 1:1-4, 2-4 or Isaiah 1:10-18
Ps. 119:137-144 or Ps. 32:1-8
2 Thess. 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus “was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature” (Luke 19:3). Seeing the crowd but not seeing over it, Zacchaeus devised another way. “He ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him” (Luke 19:4). The “crowd” is what prevents access to Jesus, and “effort” the means of pressing through it, a point underscored by other well-known gospel stories.

“Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring them to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven. … I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home’” (Mark 2:3-5, 11).

“Now there was a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well’” (Mark 5:25-28).

Salvation is free but not free of effort. We do our part. We press on to the upward call of God in Christ. We fight the good fight. We endure. We ask, seek, and knock. We push our way to Jesus, though it is always Jesus himself, by a grace that precedes and follows us, calling us forward. He says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matt. 19:14). We are those children, Zacchaeus, the woman with an issue of blood, the friends, and the paralytic. We are the ones who have found our way to Jesus through our effort or the effort of others, although, as must be said again, this effort is a grace of God.

There is also an inner crowd that may impede us. There are myriad voices in our minds and souls, telling us we are not worthy. In a sense, they are right. Zacchaeus is a tax collector, a virtual traitor to his people. He has defrauded many and so become rich. If he has robbed the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow, his “hands are full of blood” (Isa. 1:17, 15). Contemplating the cross of Christ, we see what we human beings have done (and are doing) with our own hands. A thousand inward voices speak: “My name is Legion, for we are many” (Mark 5:9). We are tormented by sin and guilt. The burden of them is intolerable.

Our lives change when we meet, in Jesus Christ, the gift of forgiveness and healing. Sometimes we hear words of absolution; sometimes we don’t, but sense them in what Jesus does. “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today’” (Luke 19:5). Jesus will go to the home of a sinful man! Indeed, we sinners are his home.

Let nothing stop you. A crowd without and a legion within cannot keep you from Jesus. Push yourself and know that he is calling you. “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Ps. 32:1)!

Look It Up: Isaiah 1:16-17

Think About It: This is a prescription for new life.

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