By: Very Rev. Stephen E. Salocks
On the Thirty-First Sunday of the Year, the Book of Wisdom reminds us that God loves everything that he has created and loves it very well. Wisdom begins by telling us that, “Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.” Indeed, the vastness of the universe pales in comparison to the greatness of God who has mercy on all, because he can do all things. He loves all and loathes nothing that he has made. So great is God’s mercy that he looks beyond people’s sins, rebuking them little by little so that they may repent and grow stronger in their faith in the Lord.
The words of the Wisdom writer were certainly stunning to his original audience, and they are just as stunning, even shocking today! Wisdom was written a century before the birth of Christ, and the writer of Wisdom did not have the privilege of seeing the images collected over the past twenty years from the Hubble Space Telescope and the more recent ones from the James Webb Space Telescope that are studying distant galaxies. Those images from the deep space beyond our solar system have a way of reminding us just how small and insignificant we are before the span of the universe. How incredible it is that so great a God could love something as tiny and seemingly insignificant as we are! But the fact of the matter is that God loves all things that exist. God would not have made anything that was worthy of contempt or hatred. God’s imperishable spirit is in all things. All things belong to God, who loves the living. The implications are clear: if all creation and humanity are precious to God, then we should also hold them as precious and take reverential care our world and refuse to mistreat or hate another human being.
Once the Book of Wisdom has set the tone with the image of our good and great, merciful and forgiving God, the Gospel of Luke today gives us the practical and finest demonstration of such divine love and care in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man who “has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
Luke introduces us to Zacchaeus who thought that he “was seeking to see Jesus.” In fact, it was Jesus who had come to seek for Zacchaeus and save him. As chief tax collector, the wealthy Zacchaeus was despised by his fellow Jews for cheating people, as was typical of tax collectors, and for collaborating with Roman occupiers. But Zacchaeus’ desire to connect with Jesus, even to set himself up for shame and ridicule by climbing a tree, causes Jesus to connect with him. Jesus goes on to invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner: “Today, I must stay at your house” reveals the necessity of Jesus’ mission to seek the lost and welcome them back to God and to the community. God’s great love and mercy are experienced in the person and ministry of Jesus.
Zacchaeus enthusiastically responds to the gift of God’s mercy and love by offering to give half his possessions to the poor and by restoring fourfold anyone he has cheated. Jesus affirms that Zacchaeus has taken advantage of Jesus’ saving offer and has reestablished himself as a “descendent of Abraham.” As Jesus’ disciples, we too are called to manifest Jesus’ covenant love in all our encounters.
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus shows how the human outlook differs from the divine. All the crowds could see was a sinner, but Jesus saw Zacchaeus for who he really was someone who was desperate enough to see if Jesus could help him make a fresh start. Jesus celebrated this small desire for transformation by inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ home. We do well to place ourselves in the same place. Our great, merciful and loving God can come to us when we least expect it. Since this can happen in both little and great moments, we want to be as ready and welcoming as Zacchaeus. Like Zacchaeus, our Lord continues to call us to be more than we are. Like Zacchaeus, we are called to move from where we are to where God would have us be. We need only to rely on God’s patient and loving care and mercy.