Diocesan Bishop of Trivandrum - Quilon Diocese, Marthoma Church


Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. [St. Luke 19:1-9]

Sermon series of the year was based on a central theme 'Renewal of the House of God". House of God is the homestead of entire homes of the world. While Lord has placed us in this world within the Church as Christian association of people as a whole in a universal sense and as local communities of parishes (ecclesia) within it in the phenomenological sense, He accredited us to hear the voice of God and to fulfill the will of God. The Church is called to extend her services to discern and outreach the concerns of the world.

In the history of mankind, the biggest epoch making advent, which transformed the human society after the Industrial Revolution, is the growth of Information Technology (IT). Information Technology has revolutionized society with the breakthroughs of increased availability of information on a fingertip. While the hallmarks of the Information Revolution is signified by booming growth and ushered in sweeping innovations, they also produced profound social disruptions. It entailed not only an introduction of a numbing glut of information but also resulted in great upheaval of misuse with an increase in the availability of pornographic, adult and censored material.

In the light of above revelations of the contemporary society, we should analyze the story of Zaccheus, which is presented in the Gospel according to St. Luke. Zaccheus was rich, chief among the publicans and his circumstances in the world were very considerable. Most people of the world are ambitious of richness of the world. There is nothing inherently evil about richness in itself. But those who aspire for the physical safety and security of the world forfeit their life for acquiring richness and eventually plunge into ruin and destruction. Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The economic sector bestowed the world a market culture, which carves the face of man to look only for profit. The market fosters selfishness and thereby undermines the moral basis of society. Economic gains are heaped among certain small group of people by maximizing profits, whilst consumers act as individuals who bargain for the lowest price and better quality. Eventually it simply divides the rich from the poor. Those who dishonestly gain wealth exploiting the entire society try to encroach all the richness of generations. By thinking that anything can be bought, people assume that money can fix all things correct.

Recent advances in Science and Technology had staged a vast difference in the approach of the current generation compared with old generation with respect to many aspects of life. Current life style and outlook has transformed drastically. While these technologies and processes took root in society, visible social dislocations took place. The new generation goes to the Internet for all information rather than depending on the schools or libraries. This is a generation of children who grew up on systems labeled by Notebook and Facebook. However these advances of Science have a darker face too. The nuclear waste created out of nuclear energy production and nuclear weapons cause devastating contamination of surrounding areas. Also there are other aspects, which will cause vulnerable effect on the earth and make it uninhabitable during the course of time. Every aspect of our life is fully influenced by the modern scientific developments.

When the technocratic world gifted a mechanized life, the bewildered and stunned society in which includes you and me overshadow with the crisis of loneliness and depression. The technocrats measure social change in physical terms and there is no room for sentiments, personal identity, human values or virtues. We must imbibe deep faith that soul based principles stand on the firm foundation of spirituality.

Zaccheus had a great curiosity to see Jesus. He could not get his curiosity gratified because he was lost in the crowd. Zaccheus was low of stature, and over topped by all about him, so that he could not get a sight of Jesus and he climbed up into a sycamore tree, to see Jesus. For those who really want to see Jesus, the crowd is a stumbling block. Tax collectors were hated by many of their fellow Jews and so naturally Zaccheus was an outcast and despised in the society. As he could not live among the crowd he was creating a room for him on the sycamore tree. We should not forget that there are many people in this world who cannot find a space on this God-created earth to lay their heads. What ever may be our distinct opinion on it, we witnessed the Chengara struggle, a movement by landless Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalized peoples to gain a piece of land and livelihood. It is in this context that the Chengara struggle attracted solidarity across a large spectrum from all over the country.

While many people are thinking of nuclear families and secluded style of living, there is a social category of people without a regular, safe, and adequate housing, dwelling or shelter. Homelessness in large is about a lack of connectedness with society and often with the sensation of loneliness out of the walls created by the society. When we build walls, some people are walled in and some are walled out.

When Jesus saw Zaccheus who could not get a space in the crowd, though Jesus never met him earlier, He called him by name, “Zaccheus, hurry down, for I mean to stay at your house today.” There were many in the crowd. But Jesus zeroed right in, on the short man in the sycamore tree. Christ invited Himself to Zaccheus’ house. But the society annotated it as that He has gone to live with a man who is a sinner. A sinner is an outcast of the society. We have many words in our vocabulary to construe them as 'useless', 'unwanted' etc. But the Holy Scripture teach us that there is nobody 'useless', but may be 'less used'; there is nobody 'unwanted', but may be 'usefulness is not known'.

In the course of history we had seen many types of outcasts at different time spans. Once upon a time the lepers were outcaste of the society. But during the public mission of Jesus Christ, He went among the lepers and encouraged them to come to Him. During the time of Father Damien leprosy affected people were quarantined to less inhibited islands. The age in which we live is forsaking the AIDS affected patients. The mental affliction caused by those people by the neglect of the society is much more painful than the agony they bear out of the disease. Even the destitute have an energy that refuses to accept defeats and insults.

But Jesus had a different approach about the outcasts. He told Zaccheus that even if the society does not need you, I need you. While Jesus said that your house is My house, Jesus was accepting Him to the House of God. In the Old Testament, the entire universe is ascertained as a large home. When God blessed Abraham that He will make him a great nation, God was not meaning only Abraham and Sarah, but the entire universe. It was a promise that all the families of the earth will be blessed. The house of Lord is home where the blessed ones who are called and separated live together. It is a large home where God is the father and all creations are His Children living together in peace and harmony. Our home is not only for our born children, but also for many others. The pattern of the House of Lord teaches us the way we should fashion our earthly homes.

There is a famous story by the title 'The City of Joy' written by Dominique LaPierre. Hasari Pal, a rural farmer from Bihar unable to repay the debts in his homeland, moved to Calcutta with his wife and three children with hopes of starting life anew, save some money and go back to Bihar, as well as to get his daughter married. Pal started driving a rickshaw. As he could not meet both the ends, he could never go back or to get his daughter married. In the course of time, Pal learned from a friend that he could get some money by selling his own skeleton. So he made an agreement with a vendor and took the advance money from him. With that money he arranged the marriage of his daughter. But Hasari Pal died on the wedding day of his daughter and as per the contract, the vendor took away the skeleton. It is not unusual for a poor man who cares his home, to choose to die with dignity than to live in shame.

In the New Testament we see many homes where Jesus lived, dined and preached. While He was traveling across Galilee, on His way to Jerusalem, while passing through Jericho and Samaria, Lord Jesus Christ was always looking around for homeless, destitute, outcasts and marginalized ones and He called them and joined with Him. Lord had come down to this world to regain the lost ones. It is not that man went to God, but it is that God came down to earth. We see in the Book of Genesis a Lord whose sound of walking in the garden in the cool of the day was heard by the man. God comes down to the living circumstances of man. There were many people who followed Him during His Public mission. However, He took special interest to meet and heal the man of Gerasenes whose dwelling was among the tombs. When Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples there was a large crowd with Him. Even in that turmoil, Jesus heard the insipid voice of a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who sat on the roadside crying and saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus showed a new way of looking at people.

Christ blessed the house of Zaccheus telling that Today Salvation came to this house. The renewal of the House of Lord takes place through the renewal of our earthly homes. The renewal of homes happens while accepting Jesus to our home. Zaccheus desired to see Jesus. He made haste, and came down from the tree, and received Jesus to his home joyfully. In the scripture we see other instances where people desired to see Jesus and He accepted them with warm heart. When Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist heard the witness of John about the Christ as the Lamb of God, they followed Him. Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi, where are You staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day. Andrew brought his own brother Simon to Jesus saying, "We have found the Messiah". Jesus accepted Simon and renamed him as Cephas. When Jesus was in Jerusalem, few Greeks desired to see Jesus. He welcomed them and told them about the fatal consequences of an inordinate love of life.

By becoming self, the host of the house of Zaccheus Jesus taught us the importance of mutuality. I need you and you need me! I need your friendship and you need my friendship! Mutuality describes a reciprocal relationship between two or more people. Reciprocity also includes the notion of exchange. When we say that we need God, it implies that we need everything created by God. For this intention, Jesus taught us to love each other as He loved them. Developed countries should support the developing countries. In the midst of changes, the eternal values should not be sacrificed. The created ones should not exploit the creation. God entrusted the entire creation to the man as the crown of creation. Though God regulates the history, the man is creating the history.

By the acceptance of Jesus into his house, Zaccheus underwent a transformation of heart and commitment for action. He resolved to be a new man and promised Christ to make restitution. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; new things have come. [2 Corinth 5:17] Moved by the audacity of Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance, Zaccheus publicly repented of acts of corruption and vowed to recompense for them, share half of his assets with poor and further he held a feast at his house. He never used any arithmetic to see how much is left behind for him. Zaccheus fulfilled the mission of reconciliation.

When God created man everything was sumptuous without any scarcity. There was no cause for poverty. The disparity of rich and poor is a man-made phenomenon. Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner for his anti-poverty efforts, opinioned, 'Poverty is not created by the poor people.' Yunus could successfully implement his brainchild, Microcredit Financing to lift up millions of poor people around the world, especially women, out of their poverty. Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways to break out of poverty. Look at the plight of our country. 1.8% of Indian population is holding 80% wealth of our country. 90% of the society is suffering from one or other form of malnutrition.

Human instinct is to save life. It is the hardness and blindness of heart, greed and covetousness which withhold man from this basic human instinct. It is the social responsibility of each human in the universe to support to sustain life in the Global Village. Church being the visible expression of the House of God, renewal of Church is the renewal of the House of God. Ministry of community building is entrusted to the Church. As Individual, parishes and the Church, we need regeneration, cleanup and a new start. Church should be a caring church. Caring is possible only by sharing. It is the commission to the territorial parishes to redeem the downtrodden and outcasts of the society. Let Lord open our eyes to perceive our mission and to fulfill the same.

[Extract from Message delivered at Maramon Convention 2009
Original in Malayalam : Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew, Philadelphia, USA]
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