Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are praying these days with the spirit of joy; God is wonderfully forgiving. Our days of life walk us towards the altar of the Christ’s life-saving death. We who believe Him and in Him, pray with joy, because the ambiguity of God’s relationship with all creation has been resolved.
We pray these days with-faith, “con-fides”, confidently trusting in the merciful “now” of God’s love for us. The judicial has been changed into the relational; the finger of indictment has become the gesture of personally indicating God’s knowing and loving us by name. If there is any ambiguity, it remains in our hearts. We pray that we will be freed to receive our being called closer and called “beloved.” The Eucharist is Jesus’ welcoming himself into our home no matter what other voices within us or around us might be “grumbling.”
The Book of Wisdom, from which our First Reading is taken for this liturgy, relates at times poetically, the history of God’s caring for Israel. It re-presents various images of God and how Israel responded or not to God’s person. The Exodus is the one single event by which God identified Israel as the chosen, the saved, the freed, and the beloved.
In the verses immediately before those we hear today, God’s power over Egypt during the Exodus is recalled. The plagues are reviewed as signs of God’s particular disfavore. God punished, but did not destroy Egypt.
Our reading is a celebration of why God allowed Egypt to endure as well as Israel, who has sinned often against the Saving, Loving God. God is pictured as loving all creation as it is, and as it will be in time. All creation is tiny, like a drop of dew, but God loves it all and those all who dwell there in.
Our reading is a poem contrasting the small size of the universe with the large size of God’s creative mercy. God does not run out of time or love for all that has been created. It has been fashioned through that same infinite love, “for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”
Luke’s Gospel alone, presents us with this wonderful narration of Jesus’ meeting the tax collector, Zacchaeus. Jesus also frees Zacchaeus to meet himself. This little fellow, an official of the Roman dominating presence in Israel, is the most despised of people for his being a Jew, but a hired helper of the enemy. He climbs up a tree to catch sight of Jesus and probably to avoid contact with his country folk.
Zacchaeus is not so much hiding, but rather preserving his image and status as being above others. He does not want to encounter Jesus and does not expect what eventually happens. Jesus, always passing on towards Jerusalem sees Zacchaeus who moves from spectator to the main actor. Jesus, by inviting Himself to Zacchaeus’ house defines His true identity as the Incarnate Word of the loving God. Jesus invites Himself into the place where the number one sinner of the time, actually lives. Jesus gives Himself to His host and as usual gives a new self to the little, sinful, despised, former, but now changed, tax collector.
As Luke pictured the angels announcing to the shepherds at Bethlehem, Jesus announces that “today” salvation has come to this house. The “house” is the “universe”, the “world”, this “people”, and this one most sinful of all, “small person.” Zacchaeus’ conversion is initiated by Jesus and the changes in his life take place after his meeting Jesus and not before. Jesus loves Zacchaeus as Jesus finds him, up in a tree. Jesus calls him back to earth and Zacchaeus admits his own earthliness. Truth meets truth and harmony results. Zacchaeus desires to live his new truth by receiving back his true and real self.
Today in our part of the world is a celebration of the eve before the celebration of the Feast of all Saints. Holy Eve or Halloween is a time for dressing up in various disguises and going from door to Dorr frightening people by their masks and the threat, “Trick or treat.”
Tomorrow the masks and costumes will be taken off and maybe that is an exact definition of what a “saint” is. Zacchaeus was a Jew, but had purchased a false identity, a mask, a pretense and he frightened others and diminished himself. Jesus passed that way, but did not pass up an opportunity to extend life, love, recovery and truth to this true “son of Abraham.”
Each day is the “today” of Jesus’ inviting Himself into our lives. Each day is the encounter with our truth, because Jesus invites us out of our false pretendings and back into our graced space. Zacchaeus, after taking off his costume had to live his truth amidst those who knew his former lie. Many saints since him, including Paul, Augustine and Ignatius to mention three, lived saintly lives, because they had been met up in their personal trees of Halloweening.
When we gather at the Table of the Lord, it becomes our Table of Welcome. Jesus welcomes us back from whatever distance we have wandered. He welcomes us back to the relationship with His sisters and brothers who may have been trying on costumes themselves. Jesus welcomes us back to who we really are in God’s eyes and invites us to see ourselves anew and live that newness. Each time we gather then we are welcomed into the Communion of Saints. We know where we have placed our former costumes and we can be tempted to reach for them. Jesus keeps passing along, but not passing us by. The Eucharist makes every day, all days, Saints Day. Being a saint is not frightening nor do they threaten with “tricks,” but live lives as blessed “treats.”
“Lord, you will show me the path of life and fill me with joy in your presence.” Ps. 16
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