Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zacchaeus the Rube Goldberg Machine

Homily from the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

Click here to see the Rube Goldberg machine in Ok Go's
music video "This Too Shall Pass."
Do you know what a Rube Goldberg machine is?  A Rube Goldberg machine is a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion through a series of chain-reactions.  It usually starts with one single, toppled domino which sets off dozens, or hundreds, or even thousands of actions. 

The movie Back to the Future begins with a shot of a Rube Goldberg machine built by the character Doc. It begins when Doc’s alarm clock goes off; and along the way, it cooks Doc’s breakfast and feeds his dog Einstein.  Maybe you played the game Mouse Hunt when you were a kid. In the game you build a Rube Goldberg machine to catch a mouse.  The popular band OkGo has an incredibly complex Rube Goldberg machine in the music video for their song “This Too Shall Pass.”

Zacchaeus is a sort of Rube Goldberg machine.  A very simple action on his part, sets off a series of chain reactions that change his life forever.  The very simple action that sets Zacchaeus the Rube Goldberg Machine in motion is this: Step One: he wanted to see Jesus.  And his desire to see Jesus triggers the next step.

Step Two: Unable to see Jesus because of the crowd and his short stature, Zacchaeus climbs a tree.  Zacchaeus will not allow any obstacle stand in the way. He will stand apart from the crowd and will scale whatever heights are necessary to see Jesus.  Climbing the tree triggers the next step.

Step three: Jesus notices Zacchaeus.  Jesus sees Zacchaeus’ desire to see him.  This triggers the next step.

Step four: Jesus calls out to Zaccaeus.  The Lord says, OK Zacchaeus, you want to see me? I’ll take you another step further. “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  This triggers the next step.

Step five: Zacchaeus comes down from the tree and receives the Lord with joy.  He responds to Jesus’ invitation to spend time with him. To be a disciple of the Lord, not merely an admirer, watching the Lord pass by at a safe distance.  He accepts the Lord’s invitation to have him enter under his roof.  This triggers the next step.

Step six: The crowd begins to grumble.  They cannot believe that the Lord will enter the house of one of Jericho’s biggest sinners.  For Zacchaeus is one of the city’s chief tax collectors. He’s made his whole living by cheating people on their taxes and taking far more than what was owed.  This triggers the next step.

Step seven: Zacchaeus gives back everything he has unfairly squandered.  He repays anyone he has extorted four times over.  And gives have his money to the poor.  He makes up for his sins.  And this leads to the final step.

Step eight: Zacchaeus finds his salvation.  Jesus gives it to him.

You and I can be Rube Goldberg machines… if we really want to be.  All we need to do is take the first step, to pull the trigger, to topple that first domino.  And a series of chain reactions will occur in us in which the distance between Jesus and us gets smaller and smaller and smaller.

Like Zacchaeus, it begins with our desire to see Jesus.  All of us desire to see Jesus.  We're “wired for it” so to speak.  And our desire to see Jesus, to really see him, will help us overcome any obstacle.  We will have the courage to step away from the crowd; to step away from the world which largely rejects Christian values.  We will have the courage to scale any heights.  To climb that tree, or that mountain; to overcome, by the grace of God, any obstacle, any sin that is preventing us from seeing Jesus.

If our desire to see Jesus is step one, and our willingness to overcome the obstacle of sin is step two, then certainly, the next logical step is to imitate Zacchaeus: to make up for our debts.  The third step is looking Jesus in the face in the Sacrament of Confession and saying, “Yep, this is how I’ve done wrong and I’m ready to make up for it.”  And once we’ve taken that step, to confess our sins, Jesus will see us,
and call out to us by name and say, “Guess what, I’m coming to your house tonight.”

Whenever we hear in the Bible that Jesus is entering into someone’s house, it means so much more than just Jesus coming over for a visit, or for dinner.  When Jesus enters someone’s house, that’s code for Jesus entering into that person’s very life.  Jesus is penetrating into that deepest part of your soul.  Jesus is entering into intimacy with you and inviting you into intimacy with him and deeper and deeper conversion through him.

You remember the story of the Centurion and his sick servant?  The Centurion asks Jesus to heal his sick servant.  Jesus says, “I will come and cure him.”  And the Centurion responds, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” 

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?  It sounds like the words we pray right before receiving the Eucharist: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

As many of you know, in about a year, we here in the United States and the rest of the English speaking countries of the world will begin using a new translation of the Roman Missal.  It will be a much more accurate translation of the Latin it was originally written in and much more consistent with what the rest of the world is saying at Mass. 

In just over a year from now, on the First Sunday of Advent in the year 2012, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” will be translated into: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

In this new translation, we will acknowledge that as Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist, we do not merely receive him; but that he comes to enter under our very roof. He comes to enter our home. He comes to enter our bodies. He comes to take up residence within us, in that deepest part of our being.

Jesus is coming. He’s passing through our Jericho.  In a few weeks we’ll prepare for his coming in the season of Advent.  He’s also coming to see us at the end of our days.  When he comes, will he find us sitting still, up in the tree, watching him pass by?  Or, will he find in us, a Rube Goldberg machine that is in motion; ignited by a desire to see Jesus, fueled by the grace of God that helps us overcome the obstacle of sin, with the door to our hearts opened, ready to welcome Jesus under our roof.

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