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JUSTIFICATION IS BY FAITH, NOT BY WORKS, BUT MANIFESTS ITSELF IN A TRANSFORMED LIFE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the 31st Sunday of the Year, November 03, 2019
Wisdom 11:22-12:2, Psalm 144, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2, Luke 19:1-10


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“He [Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man named Zacchaeus he was a chief tax collector, and rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not, on account of the crowd, because he was small of stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, ‘He [Jesus] has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost’” (Luke 19:1-10).

 

 

Today we see in Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho and a very wealthy man, a striking conversion story. Zacchaeus is a sinful extortioner, despised by his own people. Is there any hope of salvation for such a person?

 

 

But Zacchaeus does something very unusual for a dignified, elderly gentleman of high status that he is. In order to see what kind of a man Jesus is, he runs ahead to where Jesus will pass and climbs a tree, since he is short and can’t see over the heads of the people in the crowd.

 

 

This act of self-humiliation did not go unnoticed by Jesus, who looked up and saw this dignitary in the tree and called out to him by name, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Zacchaeus was filled with joy and quickly climbed down from the tree and welcome Jesus into his home, while the crowds were all murmuring at the great scandal that the holy man Jesus was going to lodge at the home of a great sinner.

 

 

But Zacchaeus was already transformed by Jesus’ acceptance of him. Here we see three things: 1) Zacchaeus’s faith is seen in his running and climbing a sycamore tree. 2) Jesus’ saving action, which transformed Zacchaeus, is manifested in Jesus inviting himself to stay in Zacchaeus’s house. And 3) Zacchaeus then manifests externally the internal transformation that Jesus has worked in him, saying, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

 

 

Upon hearing this, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). In saying this, Jesus rejoices in the salvation (justification) that Zacchaeus has received through his faith and in the generous manifestation that he gives of his transformation (justification) by promising to give half of his goods to the poor and to superabundantly restore anything he has stolen. So here we see a transformed man. Zacchaeus has been transformed by Jesus from a sinful, stingy, dishonest, cheating tax collector, to a disciple of Jesus.

 

 

This is the same pattern that should take place in every genuine disciple of Jesus. First of all, it is clear that this transformation did not come through a life of good works, for Zacchaeus’s life was one of sin in defrauding people. He did not deserve to be justified, to be made right with God by his works. This illustrates that justification (becoming right with God) is not by works, but by faith (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

 

Zacchaeus manifested his faith by running and climbing a tree, something not done by a dignified, elderly gentlemen of his status. He humbled himself in this way in order to see what kind of a man Jesus was, because he had no other way of seeing him, due to his short stature. “Above all, we cannot hold too firmly – that salvation is not of works, but of grace. If ever there was a soul sought and saved, without having done anything to deserve it – that soul was the soul of Zacchaeus” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900, emphasis added).

 

 

Zacchaeus was only justified and set right with God by his faith, because of Jesus welcoming him and offering to stay in his home; just as we are only justified by our faith in Jesus, because of the reparation that he made for our sins by his vicarious, atoning death on the cross for the sins of the world. Our justification (our being made right with God) does not come to us by our good works of keeping God’s moral law, but only by our faith in Christ.

 

 

We must also note that Zacchaeus immediately manifested his transformation in concrete, visible ways, promising to give half of his wealth to the poor. An upright Jew was considered highly generous if he gave twenty percent, for he was only expected to give ten percent to the poor (Darrell L Bock, Luke (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Baker Academic, 1996), page 1520). Zacchaeus’s transforming justification was not earned by his great generosity in promising to give half of his goods to the poor. His promise to help the poor did not cause his justification.

 

 

Rather, just the opposite took place. Zacchaeus’s transformed life and generosity to the poor was the result of his justification, not its cause. His generous promise to help the poor demonstrates that he is truly now a new creature, a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). His generous promise to help the poor shows that he now thinks and intends to live in a completely new way, namely for God and for the good of other people, whereas previously he had lived only for himself and his own worldly pleasures.

 

 

“Freely pardoned and raised from death to life – Zacchaeus felt that he could not begin too soon to show whose he was, and whom he served. He who desires to give proof that he is a believer, should walk in the footsteps of Zacchaeus – let him thoroughly renounce the sins which have formerly most easily entangled him. Like Zacchaeus – let him follow the Christian graces which he has formerly most habitually neglected. In any case, a believer should so live – that all may know that he is a believer” (JC Ryle, some of the emphasis is added).

 

 

This has much meaning for us today who are besieged once again by the Modernist heresy wreaking havoc within the Catholic Church, where many of our highest Church leaders are now falsely telling us that God is so merciful that if it is too difficult for you to keep his biblically revealed moral law in your difficult life situation and if you discern in your heart by accompaniment with your pastor that God is whispering in your conscience your own personal moral law that breaks his biblically revealed moral law, then that is what you should do, namely break God’s biblically revealed moral law and live in a state of constant mortal sin.

 

 

According to this heretical Modernist view, there is no need in every case to concretely live an obviously transformed life, for God is so merciful that he does not consider your sins as sinful in your case, due to your difficult life situation, but rather considers them as virtues, for you are doing his will, since he is the one leading you to live in this lawless way.

 

 

More than a hundred years ago, JC Ryle refuted this contemporary Modernist heresy that is leading many astray in the Catholic Church today. He said, “A faith that does not purify the heart and life – is not saving faith at all. Grace that cannot be seen – like light; and tasted – like salt – is not saving grace, but hypocrisy. The man who professes to know Christ and trust Him, while he cleaves to sin and to the world – is going down to Hell with a lie in his right hand! The heart that has really tasted the grace of Christ – will instinctively hate sin” (JC Ryle, some of the emphasis is added).

 

 

This account of Zacchaeus teaches us that there is hope for all of us, hope for even the guiltiest sinner, hope even for someone who has spent his entire adult life living in grave sin, such as Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is transformed by his faith in Jesus Christ, and so will we also be transformed. So will any sinner be transformed if he puts his faith in Christ and sincerely repents of his past life of sin.

 

 

That is enough. That is the first step that is expected of a sinner. Once we do that, God himself will declare and make us righteous, because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, which earned and merited our justification for us, for his death made effective reparation for the sins of all who put their faith in him.

 

 

Once transformed by Christ, our life must radically change, as Zacchaeus radically changed, and we must change in a public and visible way. People must see that we have ceased to live a life of sin, that we have abandoned our former sinful ways, and now are living for the love of God and the service of our fellow man. Zacchaeus is put before us by the Church today as a striking, visible example of what we sinners are supposed to do, and of what God will then do to us if we, like him put our loving, trusting faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

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