17 November 2009. Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary
2 Mc 6, 18-31; Psalm 3; Luke 19, 1-10
We have two men of advanced age in the readings today. Eleazar was a priest who chose to die a martyr’s death. He accepted death joyfully and voluntarily, rather than violating God’s will, even if it was trivial. He was being forced to eat pork, which he refused. Trying to save him from a brutal death, an old friend of his persuaded him to pretend eating the king’s prescribed meat by having, instead, Eleazar’s choice of a legitimate one. However, “Eleazar made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood; and so he declared that above all, he would be loyal to the holy laws given by God.” (v. 23) To him, it was unbecoming of an old man to show such a pretense. So Eleazar kept his integrity and hoped that he would be a good example to the young.
Zacchaeus, on the other hand, had his reputation damaged in the sense that as the district supervisor of tax collectors, he was viewed by the Jewish religious leaders as the chief of sinners. Tax collectors were dishonest. But Zacchaeus had with him a saving grace. Despite his wealth and stature, he was not ashamed to climb the sycamore tree, to publicly declare his sin, and to announce his repentance. There was in him some genuineness that eventually led him to open his heart to the Word of God. We can say that his spontaneity and impetuousness provided a rich soil for the seed of God’s word to grow. This old man regained his reputation and his integrity. Age does not matter: God accepts a renewal of heart anytime, any day. Zacchaeus was able to find his way back to the flock; of course, with the Shepherd finding him first.
At the end of our lives, we are to die with grace and ‘gracefully’ like Eleazar and Zacchaeus. In the movie 2012, a scene there strikes the central message of the readings. A ship was built to save those who were privileged to repopulate the world including world leaders. When the ship was about to be launched, people were shut out of its doors (think Noah’s ark and the people who would eventually drowned). But then, Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) cannot in conscience allow the people to die, so he talked to the Heads of State to open the gates. He said, “What will you tell your children, and what will your children tell their children?”
Adrian’s question is beneficial for all of us — young and old. It is good to consider it at the end of the liturgical year. What would we like people to remember us by? We are to set a good example to the young by keeping our integrity and nobility like Eleazar. Will people say that we have lived worthy of our years, in the dignity of our advanced years?
And if we think that reconciliation with someone or with Someone has been long delayed, then we can take the inspiration from Zacchaeus: there is no latecomer in the Kingdom of God.