OCTOBER 30TH, 2016: THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!
Brothers and sisters:
We always pray for you,
that our God may make you worthy of his calling
and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose
and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,
and you in him,
in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
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
either 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.
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“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.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
On one hand, our sacred authors presume their readers are committed to seeing things other people overlook. But on the other hand, if they actually did see those things, there’d be no need for our authors to write. It’s precisely because people of God don’t always live up to their commitments that we have our Scriptures. In some sense, our biblical authors are in the “reminding” business, making certain we don’t forget the essentials of our faith.
Today’s Wisdom author has no problem assuming this role. Though he or she seems to be one of the first sacred authors to believe in an afterlife the writer also deals with the problem of evil in the world right here and now, especially when that evil is personified in certain individuals. The author’s first principle is that Yahweh created the world in which we live, a world in which evil is always mixed with good. That’s why Yahweh constantly shows mercy to the creation Yahweh brought into existence. But even more important, Yahweh’s “imperishable spirit is in all things!” No matter if there’s evil in us; Yahweh’s undying spirit is also in us, a spirit which will continue to exist even beyond our earthly existence. Long before we meet God face to face, people of faith are committed to noticing God right here and now in all God’s creation. If we acknowledge that presence, we always have an opportunity to “abandon” the evil which at times permeates us.
The disciple of Paul responsible for writing II Thessalonians zeroes in on that same commitment. Yet he goes beyond just recognizing God’s spirit in creation. He also recognizes the risen Jesus in those around him. His goal is to make certain “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”
Yet, we live in a world in which we experience a lot of distractions, impeding us from surfacing the risen Jesus in our daily lives. This particular writer especially has to deal with the community’s preoccupation with Jesus’ Parousia. Many are so anxious for his Second Coming that they fail to notice how, in his risen presence, he’s already come into the lives of each of them.
But of course, the greatest obstacle always revolves around the actual people in whom God and the risen Jesus is present. Luke deals with this problem in today’s gospel pericope. As we saw two weeks ago, tax collectors were probably the most despised and evil people in the historical Jesus’ lifetime. Though it’s not too hard to commit ourselves to experiencing God’s presence in all people in the abstract, it’s another thing to actually pick out one specific individual and surface God in him or her, especially if that person is a thief and a traitor to the country you love. Zacchaeus perfectly fits that category.
It’s important to note that Jericho is the last stop before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, the last stop on a journey that began more than 10 chapters ago. All along the Jerusalem road, Luke’s been emphasizing Jesus’ teachings and personality for those who are on the same road to dying and rising with him. After all those miles, can we find God in someone like Zacchaeus? Perhaps in narrating this encounter Luke is telling us the best way to surface God in others is to help them surface God in themselves, especially by showing our honest concern for them, no matter what other people think or say.
If we think the “lost” are going to be saved by God without our participation, then we’re refusing to notice God’s presence in ourselves.