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OCTOBER 31, 2010: THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

According to most scholars, Luke is the first Christian author to presume everyone in his community will die a natural death before Jesus returns in the Second Coming. This appears to be one of the reasons he frequently hammers away at mercy and forgiveness in his two-volume work.

The earliest followers of Jesus took for granted his Parousia was just around the corner. Because of this belief, some, preparing for his imminent arrival, focused on heaven (from where he would come), instead of on this earth. After all, they presumed Jesus, upon his arrival, would totally transform this planet. So why worry about something that wasn’t going to be around for long.

We hear about some of this misdirected belief in our II Thessalonians passage. “We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed by a ‘spirit,’ or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.”

Obviously the disciple of Paul responsible for this letter is still dealing with “Parousia rumors” long after the Apostle’s death. When the writer speaks about “the name of our Lord Jesus (being) glorified in you, and you in him,” he’s not speaking about someone’s ability to pick the exact date of Jesus’ arrival.

Those who spend their days concentrating on such future events are usually overlooking the presence of Jesus in their lives right here and now. That misfocused faith seems to be one of the forces driving Luke to write. As I frequently mention in these commentaries, if there are no problems, there are no Scriptures. Behind every important passage of Scripture lies a problem which triggered its writing.

If Jesus’ Parousia actually is just around the corner, we presume he’ll personally take care of the divine mercy and forgiveness we hear praised in our Wisdom pericope. “You (Yahweh) have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. . . You spare all things, because they are yours.... for your imperishable spirit is in all things.” God’s mercy and forgiveness is based on God recognizing part of God’s self in all people - even sinners.

Part of Luke’s unique theology, prompted by Jesus’ delayed Parousia, revolves around his John Kennedy-like conviction that here on earth; God’s work is truly our work. We not only praise God for acknowledging part of God in everyone, it’s also our mission to acknowledge part of God in everyone.

The evangelist demonstrates how Jesus goes about this acknowledging, even in extreme situations, with extreme sinners. Good Jews thought tax collectors were about as far from Yahweh’s image and likeness as one could get. Zacchaeus not only spent much of his ordinary day hobnobbing with hated, unclean Gentiles, he also did his best to guarantee the Roman army of occupation would stay in Palestine by collecting taxes from his own people to support its domineering presence.

No wonder the Jewish crowd grumbles when they hear Jesus invite himself to be Zacchaeus’ house guest. “He’s gone to stay in the house of a sinner.” Yet Luke’s Jesus sees something in this sinful person that no one in the crowd noticed. Yahweh has embedded Yahweh’s spirit in this hated tax collector just as much as Yahweh’s spirit was embedded in Abraham, the first Jew.

Jesus’ ministry of seeking and saving “what was lost,” is now our ministry. Can we surface anything better to occupy another Christ’s time between now and the Parousia?