to Paul tells us that we must set aside childish thinking and become mature in Christ Jesus. Yet I must admit how much I love to listen to kids when they speak of God because they are so open and accepting of who God is and how much God loves them. I also have learned over the years that as we grow older our concept of God changes in a way that has us bringing God down to a level we can comprehend. The Book of Wisdom today tells us that before God the entirety of the universe is but a grain of sand.
We cannot even begin to conceptually visualize the size of the universe. What we do know of it and our little corner (the Milky Way galaxy) of the universe is that it is so immense it would take us 50,000 light years to traverse our galaxy and it alone contains 200 billion stars.
I love the way the scriptures capture the creative power and the grandeur of God. Through the words inspired by the Holy Spirit we can begin to visualize how insignificant in size and power we are when compared to the God who created us. Try to imagine this, “by the breath of God all heavenly host came into being” (Ps. 33:6). Then imagine us in comparison to the universe and you will begin to understand the enormity and power of our God.
That God to whom the entire universe is the size of a grain of sand invites you and I to call him “daddy.” This all powerful God who created all things by speaking a word and by breathing out the stars invites you and I to sit and dine with him (Rev. 3:20). We fail to understand how far God will go to have us leap into his arms so he can love us into wholeness. Yet our hearts yearn for God to hold us as he did the prodigal son but we stand aloof because we have sinned over and over again. Why do we hesitate to run to God when we have heard the heart of the message from the Book of Wisdom over and over again in the scriptures?
God is speaking to you and I in these readings today. They are telling us how God’s mercy is greater than all our sins combined. God tells us again how “he has mercy on all because God loves all things that he created and he loathes nothing that he has made” (Wis. 11:22).
We have heard this same message of mercy in the New Testament over and over again. Why is it necessary for us to be reminded how God’s mercy is greater than any sin we have or will commit. Perhaps the problem we have accepting mercy from God has more to do with our failure to understand God. All too often we bring God down to our way of thinking and we know our reluctance to forgive. We like the onlookers in the gospel judge others by a religious standard that is set according to our concept of holiness instead of by God’s standard which overlooks our failings.
That message is at the heart of these readings today. In the Book of Wisdom we see a God whose immense power and greatness loathes nothing he has made and lavishes mercy on all. In the gospel, Zacchaeus is the embodiment of all the sin and failings of humanity.
He is the Chief Tax Collector and as such had to pledge his loyalty to Caesar and the gods of Caesar. His problem was that he was a Jew before he became a tax collector and by his efficiency he rose to the ranks of the chief collector. By his pledging loyalty to Caesar and the gods of Caesar he violated the first commandment given to the Jews “not to worship any other god.” Why would he do that – he did it because he desired position and power so he embraced the gods of Caesar. The role of the tax collector was to ensure the Jews paid the tax to Caesar and any amount over the required sum was the commission earned by the tax collector.
Zacchaeus became wealthy by his ability to collect more than the required tax. He was despised as a Jew for his allegiance to Caesar, his rejection of the God of Abraham and for his oppression of his brother Jews. Did any of that matter to Jesus? Of all the people in Jericho that day why did Jesus elect to dine at the home of this despised man?
Many will hear this gospel today and will forget it before they go home. This set of readings today challenge us to look into our own hearts. God knows how fond we are of looking at our religious righteousness and at the failings of others to live up to the standard we think God desires.
God wants us to begin to see that there is only one way to the Fathers embrace and that is through Jesus Christ. I will tell you from experience it is easier to read the office, recite prayers from a meditation guide or sit in adoration than it is to dine with Jesus. Dining with Jesus requires us to open our lives to his gaze, to his questions and to his complete scrutiny of our lives. Dining with Jesus requires something of us that we hold back and that is our honesty about the place where we dwell. My house is not in very good order so I would rather gaze on Jesus as he passes by but to have him dine with me is a challenge to change my way of living.
Yet that is exactly what God is telling us today – he knows our way of living and he has already moved beyond that to embrace us – can we move beyond it and accept the mercy offered us and allow his mercy to change how we live.