This Sunday: Pay, Repay and Pray

User's Guide to Sunday, Oct. 30

(photo: Niels Larsen Stevns, public domain/Wikicommons)

Sunday, Oct. 30, is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12:1; Psalm 145:1-2, 8-13, 14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10

There are plenty of lessons you can draw from today’s Gospel about the short man, Zacchaeus, who climbs a tree and meets Jesus. The Catechism draws three.

The first lesson: What is owed must be paid.

The first way to understand any Gospel passage is to simply take it at face value.

When Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the tree, he says, “Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”  This immediately got the grumblers started, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus quieted the grumblers by promising, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

Says the Catechism, “Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge. … Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another are obliged to make restitution of them” (2412).

Our own reconciliation with God should follow that template. When we meet Jesus, we should want to right the wrongs in our past. Loving Jesus is not a substitute for earthly justice; on the contrary. What is owed must be paid.

The second lesson: We can encounter the surprising mercy of God.

If it is true that “what is owed must be paid,” what does that mean for us? We owe an unpayable debt. We are born with original sin, and then we make matters worse by often choosing our own wills over God’s. How do we repay that?

We don’t. Jesus does. As the Alleluia verse before today’s Gospel puts it, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” to restore us.

But he is happy to do it, as the first reading today makes clear.

But the Catechism cites the Zacchaeus story, saying that Christ does more than cancel our sins. Jesus also “reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community” and “receives sinners at his table” in an “astonishing” act of rehabilitation (1443).

Name to yourself the person whose dishonesty cost you the most money in your life. Now imagine throwing a dinner in that person’s honor. This is what Jesus does for those whose sins led to his torture and death — this is what he does for us.

The third lesson: Zacchaeus’ story is a model of prayer.

It seems strange that the Catechism cites Zaccheaus to say, “Contemplative prayer is the prayer of the child of God, of the forgiven sinner who agrees to welcome the love by which he is loved and who wants to respond to it by loving even more” (2712).

But it makes sense. Zacchaeus’s story is not just something possible for someone who met Christ while he walked on earth. It is also possible for those of us who, like Paul in the second reading, have only met him after his death and resurrection.

Encountering Jesus should lead us to pay back what is owed, invite him into our homes and become his companion in prayer. Just like Zacchaeus.


Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.