Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 30, 2016
LORD, you love all things that exist (Wisdom 11:22 -- 12:2).
This reading is a magnificent combination of poetry and religious and philosophical reflection. What a wonderful insight it is that God cannot hate the sinner. He would only create and preserve in existence what he loves. Even the most heinous sinner is God’s creation of love. God isn’t the enemy of the sinner; it’s the sins of the sinner that are a threat to him.
One author says of this reading that it presents a “theology of anxiety,” God’s anxiety for those souls who have rejected him. All of his actions in the economy of salvation have this anxiety over the sinner at their root. Our faith in the God of love requires that we believe that every action he’s reported as taking in the Scriptures is inspired by one motive only—love of souls. We must always remember that God’s mercy doesn’t aim at excusing or condoning sin. He loves the sinner too much to do that. Rather, Wisdom tells us, “you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” Our repentance is nothing other than our way of reciprocating God’s love for us.
May the name of Christ be glorified in you and you in him (2 Thessalonians 1:11 -- 2:2).
Written twenty years or so after Christ’s death, both the first and second letters to the Thessalonians are rich with encouragement for the local church which Paul had founded. This little church seems to have been blessed with God’s favor since it flourished, even in the absence of the apostolic presence of Paul. His praise and direction aims largely at making slight corrections in teaching and in seeing that their faith is properly expressed. In this reading, one of Paul’s concerns is the misunderstanding that some seem to have gained from possibly fabricated reports that “the day of the Lord” had arrived. That phrase was used to refer to the Second Coming of Jesus.
Paul assures the faithful that the day hasn’t arrived and goes on to remind readers of what he told them while he was with them about the events which must transpire before Christ’s return. It’s worth noting that nothing Paul says suggests that the events surround the coming of the “lawless man,” who’s to precede the Second Coming, are imminent at the time of his writing. From what Paul tells us here, the common assertion that the early Christians believed that Jesus was to return at any moment could be questioned.
Zacchaeus, a tax collector, considered to be a sinner, is converted to the Lord (Luke 19:1-10).
This week Jesus again addresses himself to a covenant outsider, Zacchaeus, a tax collector in Jericho. Zacchaeus was a rich man, the chief tax collector in a wealthy region. Chief tax collectors often employed tax collecting agents to do the dirty work of extortion of the local people in collaboration with the Roman authorities, which made these men outcasts in Jewish society. Zacchaeus’ small stature would’ve made it a necessity to employ others to handle the rough stuff, which likely made him all the more hated by the local populace.
When those who observed that Jesus had allowed himself to be invited to the house of a sinner began to murmur, Zacchaeus doesn’t dispute what they assert about him, but, by repenting, instantly turns himself into a righteous “descendant of Abraham,” as Jesus calls him. Zacchaeus wouldn’t have been required by the Mosaic Law to make a fourfold restitution for the evil he had done, still less to give half his wealth to the poor. He demonstrates for us that in the new regime which Jesus establishes as the kingdom of God, covenant outsiders such as Zacchaeus can, in an instant, become “descendants of Abraham.”
Building on today’s Gospel reading, imagine Jesus has come to visit your town. But instead of going to the house of your parish priest or even the most generous, kind, faithful members of your community, he goes straight to the home of the person you dislike the most. How would that make you feel? Would you rejoice that Jesus was calling this perhaps lost soul into a relationship? Or would you be like the people in Zacchaeus’ time—grumbling and complaining, wondering why on earth Jesus would want anything to do with that person? Now imagine that as Jesus gets ready to enter that person’s house, he turns to you. What would you say to Jesus before he entered that house?
Think of the person in your life that you most struggle with for whatever reason. Ask Jesus to visit that person, to show his love to him or her in a new way. Ask him how you can be a better friend, neighbor, etc., to that person. Perhaps ask Jesus how you can show his love to him or her.
Did you find this reflection helpful? Have something to share? Please comment below!
Reflection by Opening the Word and reprinted with the permission of Augustine Institute. The accompanying video lecture is available free at Formed.org.