Ordinary 31st Sunday – TAKE A U-TURN

Ordinary 31st Sunday

Wis. 11: 22- 12:2                      2Thess. 1:11- 2: 2                     Lk. 19: 1-10



A life of repentance, though hard, takes us to a higher order of living.


Need of Repentance:

All of us are familiar with the concentration camps in Germany, Hitler created in order to ill-treat the Jews. One such camp was in Auschwitz. Auschwitz camp was known for its cruelty, inhumanness and brutality. The person who was in charge of the Auschwitz camp was  Rudolf Hoss. He was so cruel that the Jews and others called him an animal. In fact that is what he was! In the Auschwitz camp some 2.5 million (25 lakhs) Jews  were exterminated within 3 years time. Another half a million (5 lakhs) died because of malnutrition. All because of the cruel designs of this ‘animal’. Even though his tenure was over, a year after, he returned to Auschwitz camp to oversee the execution of 4,00,000 Hungarian Jews. The story is not over! God’s love is such that His light entered into this so-called animal. There came a time in which Rudolf Hoss got converted. Towards the end of life, he felt remorse for his cruelty and repented.

In all religions, we see the notion of repentance as one of their main ingredients. Hindus call it ‘pratyāhara’ (meaning ‘turn within’). Mahavira called it ‘pratikramana’(‘introspection’). Sufis call it ‘tambah’. Jesus called it ‘metanoia.’ The notion of repentance is an important one because it is through repentance,  one  moves towards a higher level of living. No human being is a finished product. We are all on a journey. This journey is from imperfection to perfection, from fragmentation to wholeness, from exteriority to interiority and from death to life. Though we are coming from God and we carry God’s own presence within us, not everything is alright with us. We, human beings, are a strange combination of perfection and imperfection, of the finite and the infinite, of limitedness and fullness.

Journey of human life involves leaving behind all that is imperfect, finite and limited, and embracing all that is perfect, infinite and whole. This is called repentance or conversion. Repentance is a process of being less human to being more human. Precisely this was the process Zaccheus went through. Zaccheus, in the first part of his life, was trying to pursue the limited and the finite aspects of life,  namely money, wealth and possession. But Jesus’ visit created a tremendous impact upon his life that his whole life began to turn for the better.

Process of Repentance:

Even though repentance is an important part of our spiritual life and a sine qua non for a life of higher order, it is in no way an easy process. It is said that there are four stages in repentance: (a). Stage of Crisis: A person begins to question the way one lives. This questioning may either be triggered by a personal crisis and/or a social problem, or by intellectual pursuit. This self-questioning makes one a seeker. (b). Stage of Awareness: One tries to find out what is wrong with oneself. One tries to unravel the reasons why one’s life is a mess and in chaos. It leads a person to become aware of one’s sinfulness and faulty way of living.  (c). Stage of Decision: After identifying the causes, one focuses on rectifying them. It demands a strong decision and an irresistible will power. It goes along with the belief in the forgiveness of God. (d). Stage of Fulfilment: When a person is consistent in one’s new way of living, one begins to experience a higher level of fulfilment and joy in life.

We see that these four stages are found in the conversion of Zaccheus. (a). All the money and possessions Zaccheus had could not give him happiness in his life. Moreover the social stigma that he was a tax-collector would have haunted him too. It made him a seeker. He felt the need for seeing Jesus by all means. (b). Jesus indirectly  helped him to come out of his sinful life. His invitation to Zaccheus ‘Come down from the sycamore tree’ can be served as a powerful symbol. The sycamore tree can be a symbol of pride, egoism, selfishness and all types of sinful ways of living. Jesus invited him to come down from all these evils. In fact, Jesus climbed on the cross that we may climb down from all evil. (c). Jesus’ indirect invitation along with his tremendous love for Zaccheus gave him courage and openness to come out of his sinful life. He said, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” (d). Zaccheus experienced God’s forgiveness and love. There is no doubt that this experience gave him a higher level of fulfilment and joy. This is affirmed by the words of Jesus, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Struggle in Repentance:

Though many like the idea of repentance, not all are ready for it. The impact of the finite and the material world upon us is such that we think that it alone is the real. We revel in the world of sensual pleasures and think that it is the ultimate. On the one hand, we know the limitedness of the pleasurable life we lead and the problems it creates for us. However on the other hand, it is not easy for us to go beyond it. We are bit sceptical whether we would get anything better if we renounce it. There is an element of fear in us which says, ‘What a tragedy if I lose even that which I am having now!’ So we continue to get immersed in the sensual world more and more.

However God does not abandon His hope upon us. The first reading beautifully explains how God works on us that we may repent and get converted. He is first of all patient towards us. He waits for us that we would understand the insanity and inanity of the way we live our lives and turn towards Him. (“You overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.”) Not only does he wait for us, but also he takes initiative to correct us. “You correct little by little those who trespass, and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin, so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you, O Lord.” God’s purpose is in correcting us is that we may be more and more in touch with the immortal spirit in us. By being in touch with this immortal spirit, we make ourselves worthy of God’s call (the second reading).

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