Confession, the Door to the Eucharist: “It is necessary that I stay in your house today”.
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
Homily, Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
“Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today” (Lk 19:5). The story of Zacchaeus ends with Jesus’ supper with his family. When he meets Zacchaeus, Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem, and his goal will be another supper: the Eucharist. The encounter with Zacchaeus shows us the path of conversion in order to follow Christ and participate in his supper.
The first reading, from the book of Wisdom, speaks precisely of this journey of God with sinners, to lead them little by little to himself. The story of Zacchaeus is a story of conversion, of man’s return to God, and conversion is a constant in our Christian life. The sacrament of this conversion is penance, which rehabilitates us to receive the Eucharist again. We can see in the story of Zacchaeus the three acts of the penitent, which are the matter of the sacrament of penance.
- First, there is contrition. It is the sorrow for having sinned against the God’s font of love. Zacchaeus perceives that something is wrong in his life, he has heard about Jesus and wants to see him. Grace is already touching him, as Pascal said: “you would not seek me if I had not already found you”. Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, but Jesus already knows his name. And not only does he want to see him, but he wants to enter his house and share food and shelter. In Zacchaeus there was an earthquake of conversion, but scientists say that the sun also experiences seismic activity, which could be called “sun-quakes.” God always begins to move before man and goes further in his desire to meet him.
Contrition is sorrow for our sins because of the love of God whom we have offended. Sins can also hurt us for other reasons. They can hurt us out of fear, or because of the humiliation they cause us. These are valid reasons to stop sinning, but they are not the full reason. A grace of confession is that it enkindles the love of Christ within us, as happened to Zacchaeus. Salvation has come to his house, and what is salvation? The name of Jesus means precisely “salvation”. To be saved is to have Him as our friend, because all good things come from Him.
We are moved to this love by our own wickedness and God’s condescension to us. He comes to seek the lost, to heal the sick, to love the unloved. Zacchaeus was of small stature. In his Confessions St. Augustine wrote this expression of amazement at his own sin: “So small a man and so great a sinner…” (Conf. I,12,19) “Where or when, I ask you, have I been innocent?” (Conf. I,7,12). And yet Jesus knocks at Zacchaeus’ door to dine with him, sharing intimacy. Therefore, for St. Augustine, the Confessions, before being a confession of sin, are a confession of praise for the gifts that God has given him, and for the way in which, by sowing aloe amid his sins, he has been leading him to himself.
- Secondly, we have the confession itself. The Gospel does not tell us what Jesus and Zacchaeus talked about during the meal. Zacchaeus would tell Jesus about his life. Jesus already knew it, but it is necessary for Zacchaeus to pronounce it, because only then does Zacchaeus come to recognize it. How important it is to express the story of our life, to say it in words, because words forge our inner world! Only when we say: “I am sorry”, and when we say, “I forgive you”, does forgiveness truly take place. If things are not spoken, they remain inside and eat away at us. Confession is a work of mercy, because the confessor lends an ear so that man can speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend.
Jesus would also tell Zacchaeus about his mission to save the world, for he had come to seek him. “It is necessary for me to stay in your house” means: “the Father wills it, it is written by Him”. God is able to straighten out our sin, to include our history in his own history of love, in his Eucharistic thanksgiving. God cannot undo what has happened, but he can change the meaning of what has happened, by associating it with his love.
Zacchaeus would have much sin to tell, and he could despair. Was salvation possible for him too? Christ comes to place his story beside our story, to renew it. That is why, alongside the sins we recount is the priest’s absolution: “God, Father of mercy, has reconciled the world to himself by the death and resurrection of his Son, and has sent the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins…” The story of Jesus stands alongside our story to set it straight, so that we no longer look only at our sin, but at the love that sin provoked and the forgiveness Christ gave us. Zacchaeus climbed the tree to see Jesus, while Jesus climbed another tree, the tree of the Cross, to save Zacchaeus.
Thus, Jesus’ forgiveness does not humiliate Zacchaeus. Jesus forgives Zacchaeus, not because he thinks Zacchaeus is little, but because he recognizes in him a son of Abraham. As if he were saying to him: “You are one of those stars that Abraham saw in the sky and could not count. Not only will you climb the tree, but, in spite of your short stature, you will ascend to heaven”. Jesus knows how to see deeply into Zacchaeus, and to discover there the creative hand of God, as today’s reading from Wisdom says: “You love all beings, and hate nothing that you have made; for if you hated anything, you would not have created it” (Wisdom 11:24). It is like the mother who, in her adult son, who may be the worker of grave evils, always discovers the child he was. And of every person it can be said: “you too were the son of a mother”, that is, you too were loved unconditionally, someone expected everything from you too. God’s love is the source of the love of mothers, and Jesus has come to reveal it to us, so that, whatever our sin, there is always hope, because we are “children of Abraham”, that is, “children of the promise”.
- Finally there is the reparation or penance we make for sin. Zacchaeus distributed half of his goods to the poor. St. Augustine says that Zacchaeus kept the other half, not for himself, but in order to be able to continue giving, for he would give four times as much to all those he defrauded. Satisfaction consists in being able to become a source of goods for others.
It would seem that reparation diminishes God’s mercy, as if we have to pay something to be forgiven, but it is the other way around. Reparation is the greatest mercy, because it allows us to imitate God and to do good abundantly. Jesus, who told us: “you are a son”, now tells us: “be a father, like Abraham the father”.
We said before that the story of our sin can discourage us. The evil we have committed prevents us from looking ahead and stops our history. When we go to confession we recognize that we always fall into the same sin. On the one hand, this is good: it would not be very positive to always have new sins to tell. On the other hand, this invites us to humility and patience. Perhaps a remedy is to look not only to the struggle against these sins, but to the development of virtues, engendered by charity. Indirectly, sin can be overcome if we set out to do good. And here we can be creative, inventing new ways of loving. As St. Peter says, love covers a multitude of sins.
Contrition, confession, reparation. The sinner, who returns to God, becomes the image of God. That is to say, he becomes the image of the Trinitarian God, who is a communion of persons. Through contrition, we are touched by love, and we are filled with the Holy Spirit who unites the Father and the Son. Through confession, we are filled with the word of wisdom, and we become like the Son, the Word of the Father. By making us powerful to do good, to be sources of life for ourselves and for others, we become like the Father, who makes the sun rise and the rain fall on all his children.
“First confession, then communion,” said St. Augustine commenting on the first letter of St. John. Soon we will say at Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter my house”. If we humbly accept that we are unworthy, if we go to confession to be converted, we will be able to hear this response from the Lord: “I must stay in your house today. My Father wants it. For this I have come.