Sunday Scriptures

Are You Ready to Go the Distance?

by Father James Rodriguez

Today, tens of thousands of people from all over the world will flood the streets of our diocese in one of the most famous footraces on earth. The N.Y.C. Marathon is a major annual event, not only for runners but for spectators at home and on the streets who cheer for the runners. A good friend of mine jokingly asks: What are they all running from? In today’s readings, we can glimpse an answer: They are running from mediocrity.

For many runners, the sport is more than a good way to lose weight and stress; every step is an accomplishment. They push themselves beyond previous boundaries and are rewarded with a euphoric “runner’s high” of endorphins, which soothe the aches and soreness of muscle, bone and ego over long distances. This good feeling lasts, becoming a sense of triumph, and for spiritual-minded runners, it can be quite prayerful.

Secret of Happiness

In the seminal 1981 film “Chariots of Fire,” the actor playing runner Eric Liddell says, “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Today’s first reading speaks of the pleasure we share with God when we glorify Him. This is the seemingly contradictory secret of happiness: Your truest joy lies in a will other than your own.

Like the invincible rush born from the strain of running, this seems contradictory, until you have experienced it for yourself. Then, and only then, can one begin to see rightly and say with a grateful heart, “You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things” (Wisdom 11:26).

In the second reading, St. Paul promises to pray for the Thessalonians, whose praise is expressed in their fidelity to the God who is so faithful. We are reminded to continually hold on our lips the words of today’s Psalm and praise our King and our God forever, by trusting in the One who alone is worthy of such praise, no matter the cost.

Any marathoner can tell you that whether you feel pleasure or pain, the only way to finish is to keep running (or walking, or limping, or crawling). For believers, praise of God is the running, and the path is life. Your family, your friendships, your decisions and the way you spend your money are all ways to praise.

Like a couple on their wedding day, we pledge to be true to God in good times and bad, just as He is faithful to us through it all. He calls out to us despite our unworthiness and makes us worthy simply because He wants to.

In today’s Gospel, He does precisely that and holds up for us a rather unlikely disciple. This small man, Zaccheus, a tax collector with a checkered past, “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” He was spiritually blind and wanted badly to see. He was invisible to so many, both by stature and by his bad reputation, but being seen by the One he longed to see changed everything.

With tears in eyes that were seeing as if for the first time, he could stand within the crowd and look to the Lord, willing to go to any length to make up for his sinfulness. He promised to give half of what he owned to the poor, and of the remaining half, he promised to repay four times over anyone he had cheated. So aflame with love for the Savior, the love of money no longer held sway over his heart. How could it? He had a new master now.

Full Allegiance

Zaccheus was ready to “go the distance,” but if we allow this Gospel passage to pass us by as “just another story,” we do ourselves and the Word a great disservice, since Jesus demands full allegiance. Nothing less will make us happy.

Like a runner in training, our spiritual greatness requires sacrifice and discipline. It requires regular occasions of prayer – some short and some long – beyond the basic Sunday obligation. Like runners, the more we do it, the more we will enjoy it, but the less we do it, the more it will become a chore and, eventually, a memory.

This Sunday, allow Zaccheus to convict and convince you, to move your heart as his own heart was moved – by a direct encounter with the Lord and the Cross to which we must all run, “that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” (2 Thess. 1:12).

Then, after a life of heroic virtue and faithful trust in Him who saved us, we may cross the finish line to eternal life.[hr]

Readings for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2

Psalm 145: 1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14

2 Thessalonians 1:11 – 2:2

Luke 19: 1-10[hr]

Father James Rodriguez is the associate vocation director for the diocese and teaches at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.