C Cycle – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
Wis. 11:22, 12: 2
Surveys of biblical knowledge reveal that among all Christian faiths, Catholics have the least knowledge of the bible. Those surveys reveal that only a small percent of Catholics read the scriptures for inspiration or to grow in their knowledge of God. That fact seems odd since the Catholic Church is the source of what every Christian claims to be the unerring word of God – the bible. The Catholic Church assembled the various books of the bible and declared them the unalterable word of God. The church also translated the bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Latin so that “we would not be “ignorant of Christ.”
Catholics will attend bible studies and get all excited about learning about the culture at the time various books of the scriptures were written. You may have heard some clever person saying during one of those studies, the Bible is “Basic Instruction’s Before Leaving Earth. That is a cute saying but that statement is misleading. The scriptures are not an instruction manual and to call it a manual for life is far from the real reason the scriptures were given to us. Simply put, the bible is God’s revelation of himself and his plan for us. It also provides us with a clear picture of how we are to respond to that revelation.
God is clear about his plan for us when he created us. God desires to share his love and have us grow in intimacy with him. From the beginning of creation, we were to be immortal beings, sharing intimacy with God and having dominion over all his creation. We know the sin of Adam and Eve cost us immortality and we lost dominion over the earth and sickness, death, and all sorts of calamities became part of our daily life. But God’s desire for us to share intimacy with him has never changed. God’s desire for us to live forever did not change. The sad part of life is we humans remain just as stubborn as Adam and Eve were because we somehow still believe we can become like God by our own efforts to be holy.
The Pharisees in today’s gospel were shocked because Jesus chose to dine with Zacchaeus. We may not read the scriptures, but we do know many of the gospel stories. The New Testament stories show us the never ending quest of God to point out how wrong our thinking is about how God views sin and our reaction to sin. We see that in the parable of the Prodigal son, the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector and the Pharisee in prayer and this story of Zacchaeus. Every one of those parables reward the individuals we believe do not deserve to be rewarded. Yet Jesus used those parables to reveal to us how wrong we are about what it takes to please God.
The root of our problem is we believe in a system of reward for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior. We struggle with the parables which overlook the failings of humanity. We look at the loss of paradise by Adam and Eve as punishment and we do not take the time to see God’s mercy in how he treated them after they failed. He sought them out, he clothed them just as he clothes us with righteousness. In addition, God reveals his plan for our redemption as he curses the serpent and declares the woman and her offspring will strike his head (Gen.3:15). God’s plan was then and remains now for us to enjoy a life of immortality. That has never changed, and our destiny remains intimacy with God. But we must learn the lesson of Adam and Eve. What God desires to give us cannot be earned or merited through our efforts but by us embracing his mercy. Zacchaeus shows us how God is constantly offering sinners intimacy with him instead of having our sin keep us from allowing him into our lives.
We have a mindset which has God using our system of reward and punishment instead of his system of overlooking our sin and accepting his invitation to be in his presence. We need to let go of our feelings of unworthiness and not deserving of forgiveness. We need to let go of our understanding of worth and discover in the scriptures God does not hate anything he created but instead only sees the good in each of us. We need to discover the heart of the Father and how his mercy is extended to everyone.
Listen to God speaking to us in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom. The verses we heard begin by giving us an image of the immensity of God. He is beyond our comprehension. The scriptures tell us, for God “the entirety of the universe is as grain on a scale or as a drop of dew come upon the earth.” Just imagine the size of God for the entire universe to God is a grain or a drop of dew. We have an immense, powerful, omnipotent God who invites us to come to him, to call him Abba, to jump in his lap as a child would jump into the inviting arms of someone who loves them. Then he tells us God has “…mercy on al.” He continues to remind us how God “… overlooks the sins of all.” This is God in the Old Testament revealing himself to us and we still have trouble believing in forgiveness for all sin and especially for our sins.
How many times and through how many ways does God have to tell us he does “…. spare all things, because they are (his) and (he) our LORD is the lover of souls, (and his) imperishable spirit is in all things!” How many times do we have to hear God tell us, it is his desire that none should perish. God has done his part to redeem us, by sending us Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. Instead of feeling unworthy we should be to be like Zacchaeus and overcome our own failings to desire to encounter Christ.
Let us continue to encounter Christ and receive him in the sacrament not as righteous Pharisees but to as grateful sinners.