15 Nov, Tuesday of Week 33
2 Macc 6:18ff. The old man, Eleazar, refused to be disloyal to Yahweh and in his martyrdom he gave an unforgettable example of virtue for the whole nation.
Lk 19:1ff. Jesus dines with the repentant tax collector, Zacchaeus, for he has come to search out and save what was lost.
Hurry On Down!
The final verse in today’s Gospel provides the key for interpreting many other stories about Jesus, whose mission was “to search out and to save what was lost.” This is variously exemplified by the gospel and by the reading from Maccabees. Jesus’ words can be turned around and paradoxically rephrased: we cannot be found unless we lose ourselves; unless we are found by Jesus, we cannot be saved.
To be found by Jesus meant that Zacchaeus had to give up and lose much of himself. First of all, his dignity by climbing up the sycamore tree, and then much of his wealth by paying back fourfold those he had defrauded. We cannot help commenting that Jesus too had to lose his dignity as a “holy man, ” by going to dine at the home of the unclean sinner. Zacchaeus, after all, was even “chief tax collector” in the important city of Jericho, through which many pilgrims had to pass on their way to the festivals at Jerusalem. This city funneled all the wealth of the East towards the capital.
When Jesus came to the spot where Zacchaeus had climbed the sycamore tree, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry on down!” – for he had seen a spirit of repentance in Zacchaeus’ heart. Jesus may then have lost still more of his dignity, by inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Indeed, “the Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost.”
In the story of Eleazar not only did his lifestyle change due to his fidelity to the Law, but it was ended dramatically by martyrdom. Again, by losing, he gained much, for while dying, he confessed, “I am suffering with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him, ” the Lord God. Eleazar benefitted not only for himself but for the entire nation, in providing such an unforgettable example of virtue.
First Reading: 2 Maccabees 6:18-31
Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. But he, welcoming death with honour rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them. But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.
“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, ” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I will not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”
When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.” So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”