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Hope for worst sinners

IN his book, “Life Is For Living,” religious philosopher Eric Butterworth tells the story of an expedition of scientists who set out to capture a particular species of monkey in the jungles of Africa. It was important that the monkeys be caught alive and unharmed.

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The scientists devised a trap consisting of a small jar with a long, narrow neck. The jars filled with a handful of nuts were placed strategically around the jungle floor.

A monkey, scenting the nuts in a bottle, would thrust his paw into the long neck and take a fistful of the nuts.

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However, as soon as he tried to withdraw the prize, his clenched fist would not pass through the narrow neck of the bottle. So all the monkeys stayed where they were, screaming unable to escape and unwilling to let go of the nuts…until the members of the expedition arrived and took them captive!

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We may smile at the monkeys, thinking how stupid they were, but in some respects, are we not very much the same? Not in looks, of course, but in our desire to cling to the very things that hold us back.

In the gospel of this 31st Sunday, we read about Zaccheus, a man who thrust his hand into the bottle, so to speak, and became captive of his own undoing.

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As senior tax-collector, Zaccheus had grown rich by using his position of power to defraud the people and line his own pocket.

Zaccheus was a short man, but even shorter in the eyes of his countrymen who knew well enough his double-dealing reputation. His greed must have caught up with him, giving him a troubled conscience.

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He sought Jesus with genuine humility and sincere sorrow. This he showed in taking the unusual step of climbing a sycamore tree despite the fact that, as a senior tax-collector, he was a VIP in the city!

He wanted to impress on the Lord that he had REFORMED his life. He told Jesus that he had been going far beyond the requirements of the religious law in his effort to right the wrongs he did to others.

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“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore four times” (Lk 18,8). It’s a 180-degree turn-around which we call by many names like “conversion,” being “born again,” or transformation. Jesus calls it “salvation.”

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Zaccheus’ story is God’s unequivocal warning against greed or enriching oneself at the expense of the people’s money. Also, for those who’re trafficking illegal drugs, peddling pornographic materials, exploiting and oppressing the poor.

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But here’s GOOD NEWS. With the Lord there’s always hope for even the worst sinner as long as he’s repentant. By the way, this is where a compassionate God differs from the punitive policy of the present administration which carries out and condones summary executions and extrajudicial killings.

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What we cannot let go of things we hold on so tightly could be a vice like gambling, drinking, womanizing or speaking bad words or harboring hatred and an unforgiving spirit.

If we strive to reform ourselves, then we will experience God’s forgiveness and peace of soul.

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ALL SOULS’ DAY. In celebrating “Undas” or Souls Day, let us reflect on the last things of life which have eternal consequences: Our own death, our souls’ immortality, life after death, our goal of becoming a saint.
(Fr. Bel R. San Luis, SVD)

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