4th before Advent     3 November, 2013     Gospel: Lk 19.1- 10

Jesus said, Today salvation has come to this house

When I was twelve I climbed up a tree to see the Olympic flame pass by on its way to the London Olympics in 1948. I couldn’t get up a tree to save my life nowadays. Zachaeus did but then he was a fat cat and cats like climbing trees. Perhaps he went to the gym often. How the Guardian readers, standing nearby, complained. "Fancy Jesus going to stay with a fat cat. What would his mother think who, before his birth, sang about the poor being exalted and the rich getting their comeuppance!".

Zachaeus perhaps overheard them. His pride stung, he promptly announced that he was giving away a few millions. Jesus was delighted and spoke those marvellous words: "Today salvation has come to this house because Zachaeus also is a child of Abraham". The point being, not that Abraham was rich, which he undoubtedly was, but that he was righteous. Jesus was saying that Zachaeus was righteous like Abraham.

Recently I had the pleasure of blessing my niece’s newly built house. It isn’t a ministry observed frequently in the C of E, although in the Orthodox tradition the people want the Priest’s blessing on their homes very often, especially at Easter.  However, we do have the custom of visiting homes in our parishes. When I was a curate fifty years ago we had to be out visiting every afternoon between two and five, except Sundays. The vicar did this as well. We read in the Gospels that Jesus visited people in their homes. The visit to Zachaeus wasn’t unusual.

I can’t think of any other fat cats Jesus visited, although Nicodemus might qualify. He went at night to the place where Jesus was staying to avoid being seen. Simon the Pharisee, who invited Jesus to dinner, would have been fastidious in giving alms to the poor but he got no praise because he lacked the essential grace of loving his neighbour.  Jesus called Matthew to become a disciple and then went home with him and they celebrated with Matthew’s friends, people whom the Pharisees thought disreputable. Jesus said that he came to call sinners such as Matthew, not righteous people like the Pharisees.

Jesus visited those who were his followers and friends, notably Lazarus, Martha and Mary. There is also Peter’s mother in law, whom Jesus healed and whose house in Capernaum is preserved even to this day. The Lord also visited strangers such as the Samaritans during his last journey to Jerusalem . They refused to welcome him but he calmly went on to another Samaritan village in the hope of a better reception. No doubt the Lord visited many more homes than we are told. It was necessary for an itinerant preacher who had nowhere to rest his head and no food for the journey.

After his resurrection on the evening of the first Easter Day we’re told Jesus encountered two disciples going to their home in Emmaus.  At their invitation he visited their home and there, as he said the blessing at supper, he revealed himself in the act of breaking bread.

In their different ways these beautiful stories show us Christ’s pastoral and evangelistic ministry. He gave the Church an example, sending out the apostles and, later, seventy other disciples to visit and stay in homes as they preached the good news of the kingdom of God and healed the sick. Ever since, down the ages, the Catholic Church has continued this ministry in different ways, adapted to the needs and possibilities of the time. In the great days of the Catholic movement in the Church of England, parish priests were zealous in visiting their parishes and they were accompanied by many lay visitors.

The Catholic movement today needs to establish ‘hot-spot parishes’ where Catholic life is lived and seen as lived, so as to share it with others outside our tradition. An essential component as well as the sacraments, liturgical worship and disciplined devotional life, will be apostolic pastoral and evangelistic visiting by the clergy and well trained enthusiastic lay people.

 

Crispin Harrison CR