Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Wisdom of Solomon 11:22–12:2
Psalm Psalm 145:1–2, 8–11, 13, 14
Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2
Gospel Luke 19:1–10
Psalm 145:1–2, 8–11, 13, 14
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
and tell of your power,
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The LORD is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
Reading the Word
Wisdom of Solomon 11:22–12:2
The whole world before you is like a speck that tips the scales,
and like a drop of morning dew that falls on the ground.
But you are merciful to all, for you can do all things,
and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent.
For you love all things that exist,
and detest none of the things that you have made,
for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.
How would anything have endured if you had not willed it?
Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.
For your immortal spirit is in all things.
Therefore you correct little by little those who trespass,
and you remind and warn them of the things through which they sin,
so that they may be freed from wickedness and put their trust in you, O Lord.
2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2
To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Hearing the Word
“An Ongoing Creation”
Today’s liturgy calls attention to God’s on-going activity in the world. God’s project of renewal of creation and the final salvation is under way, and believers play a part in bringing it to completion.
The first reading presents God in a manner that counters standard beliefs of the ancient world, where gods were represented as statues of wood and stone, or portrayed as animals (cf. Wis 11:11-15; 1412-21). The author of the book of Wisdom paints a very different image of the true God. This is a living God, the creator of everything that there is, infinitely greater than this world which is like a drop of morning dew before him. Still, God loves his creation and God’s Spirit permeates everything. Through this Spirit God breathes life into all beings and sustains the world in existence.
The author gives special attention to humankind, a special part of creation. He acknowledges that this world is not perfect because alongside its beauty and goodness there exist sin, suffering and wickedness. God responds to these ills not with anger and punishment but with mercy, which moves God to act like a patient teacher and mentor. Thus, God gives people time to repent and change their ways. Because he loves his creatures, he gradually corrects and guides people to bring them to a greater understanding of what is good and what harms them. God does not force anything upon people but reminds and warns, so that they can make their own choices. The ultimate goal of this divine education is a deeper relationship with the creator God, a relationship based on understanding and trust.
Our passage presents a unique picture of God who is intimately present with his creation and accompanies his people in the process of continuing growth. According to this picture, the creation of the human race is still ongoing, with God patiently allowing and helping people to grow and develop towards ever greater maturity.
In the second reading Paul addresses the community he founded in Thessalonica. For years, through letters and visits, the apostle has been closely involved in their ongoing Christian formation and development. In today’s passage, Paul first expresses his continuing prayerful concern for their progress in faith, so that they may become “worthy of God’s call”, shown through exemplary life and “works of faith”. Here, Paul implicitly admonishes them to manifest their faith though dignified living according to Christian principles. He motivates them to do so by stating that such life would bring glorification to “the name of our Lord Jesus”. In the biblical language “name” is often used as a substitute term for the person, while glorification refers to making someone recognized and honoured. Thus, the true goal of the Thessalonians’ righteous living lies in making Jesus known and honoured in the eyes of the world. They are to become the visible manifestation of the invisible Christ.
This exhortation reflects Paul’s understanding that, through faith and baptism, believers are joined to Christ, they are “conformed” to the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18) and thus become a “new creation” (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). This process of becoming Christ-like begins in this world and will reach completion in the heavenly world (Phil 3:21).
In the second part of the reading Paul emphasizes that God’s project of the new creation has begun but it is not yet completed. Apparently, some misguided teachers had tried to persuade the Thessalonians that their experience of the Holy Spirit meant that Christ has already come, and that they are already “gathered to him”. Paul denies this teaching, and tells the Thessalonians to look forward to the future coming of Christ’s and their full union with Christ. Christ’s second coming will complete the process of transformation of creation and make salvation final. Up to that time, God’s project of salvation is an on-going one, and the Thessalonians in their quest for an ever more authentic Christ-like living are a part of it.
The Gospel story of Zacchaeus reveals yet another aspect of God’s on-going creation which takes place through expansion of the family of God’s people.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. As such, he had subordinates obliged to give him a share of their profits. This made him a wealthy man, but his conscience must have been tainted by much abuse and fraud. No wonder that his fellow Israelites looked at him with disdain and suspicion. He truly was a sinner and an outcast among his own people. Out of sheer curiosity he tried to see Jesus, but he could not because he was short in stature. Since he did not want to push his way through the crowd of people who intensely disliked him, he climbed a tree. This is an image of an even deeper alienation, with Zacchaeus on a tree, apart from the crowd of his countrymen. Taking the initiative, and without any invitation from Zacchaeus, Jesus called to him, announcing that he “must stay” at his house. In the biblical language, this formula reflects “divine necessity” – something that must take place because it was decided by God. There was no reason for Jesus to visit Zacchaeus, other than to carry out God’s work.
Jesus’ presence transformed the greedy and fraudulent tax collector, who begins to act with an extraordinary generosity, first by giving half of his possessions to the poor. Then he decides to give back what he defrauded. According to the Law, Zacchaeus was required to return one hundred and twenty percent of the amount defrauded. Zacchaeus intends to return four hundred percent! These acts testify to a fundamental transformation that had taken place in his heart. Jesus acknowledges that change, stating that salvation has now come to Zacchaeus’ house. This salvation consists in Zacchaeus being transformed from an isolated and despised outcast into “a son of Abraham”, that is, a member of God’s people.
Visiting Zacchaeus, Jesus continued with his mission to seek and restore sinners to God and to the community of God’s people. This mission of salvation is yet another example of how God’s creation is an on-going process of bringing ever more people under his rule, and to set them on the path to final salvation. Jesus carried out this work throughout his entire earthly ministry and, at its end, entrusted his disciples and successors with carrying it on (cf. Lk 24:44-48). This is the project which members of the Christian family continue until today.
Today’s liturgy calls for awareness of the dynamic and on-going character of Christian life as a part of God’s design for salvation. The author of the Book of Wisdom emphasizes that God gently guides humanity towards maturity and a fuller understanding of his creation and himself. Paul wrote about an on-going transformation of every Christian to be Christ-like in this life, with the goal of completing this transformation at the end of time. Jesus restored sinners like Zacchaeus to the community of God’s people, and entrusted his disciples and their successors with the mission of doing the same. Thus, God’s on-going creation involves drawing ever more people into the Christian community. Believers who are a part of this process on daily basis can only say with the Psalmist, “every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.”
Listening to the Word of God
Knocked down by a strong wind, a fallen tree lay helpless in the outskirt of a little town. As weeks passed, it shed off its leaves and its bark dried up. Many who set eyes on the tree could not see much use for it; in their judgement, it was destined to rot. A few contemplated chopping it for firewood – to burn in flames and be gone forever. One day, a stranger visited the town and caught sight of the dying tree. His face beamed with smiles. He saw something in the tree that others could not see. He requested to have it. The townsfolk had no problem giving it away for the people did not have any great plans for it. With chisel and hammer in his hands, he set to work. Soon he carved a beautiful wooden tabernacle out of the wood. The tabernacle ended up in the Church destined to house the Holy Eucharist. The fallen tree that was regarded as useless became the abode of divinity. It took a creative sculptor to bring out its beauty for all to see it.
Such was the story of Zacchaeus. Many saw him as a good-for-nothing cheat and abuser, but Jesus saw him as good for something. The end product of Zacchaeus, after his encounter with Jesus, was marvellous. He became a man of great generosity, one who was ready to give his all in service of others. He was transformed into a new creation. This transformation came through God reaching out to this outcast through his Jesus.
St. Augustine of Hippo is quoted as saying, “there is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future”. We are constantly in the state of becoming. Just as our physical bodies change with time, our inner beings also change with experience. To condemn someone is to seek to truncate the process of an ongoing creation. The Krobos people have a saying, “a fool today may turn out to be a sage tomorrow”. People do change.
The author of the Wisdom of Solomon speaks of God in these words, “for you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it.” True love waits and every artisan knows the importance of patience.
Creation is ongoing and we need to be patient with one another as God is patient with us. What each person will turn out to be in future is unknown to the human mind, but for the divine mind everything is clear and well planned, everything has a purpose. God does not play a lottery up there in heaven, and leave the work of his hands to chance. He is actively making all things new. We become co-creators when we cooperate with the Creator in bringing people to a new birth and a new beginning.
“A fool today may turn out to be a sage tomorrow.”
Do I easily condemn and attached judgmental labels to those I do not fully understand, without allowing them to prove themselves with time? Why?
Do I see myself as a part of God’s ongoing creation and am I open to change?
Response to God
I choose to see the beauty in God’s creation. I take a deep look at every created thing and person, and I allow my heart to well up with praise of God.
Response to your World
I will look around me to see what or who needs my attention and help to grow and develop. How can I make this happen? I will take the needed steps.
In striving to promote justice and peace among people and integrity of creation, we become co-creators with God. How can we as a community fulfil this our God-given role and task?
Eternal Father, before anyone of us was conceived in our mother’s wombs you knew us. You planned for our entrance into this world and you sustain that plan with your grace. I yield completely to your divine will and pray that your purpose may be fulfilled in my life. Strengthened by your grace, may I cooperate with you in your ongoing work of creation. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.