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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or
a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
We pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith, with power; 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.
Now we beseech you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming
of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together with him; not to be
quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or
by word, or by a letter supposedly from us, as that the day of the Lord
is just at hand.
Jesus entered and was passing through Jericho. Behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, who was a chief publican, and was also rich, who was seeking to see who Jesus was; but could not because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.
And he ran on ahead, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions againsst Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
** Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
|In order to truly understand
and fully appreciate what’s happening in today’s Gospel when Jesus goes
to the house of a sinner and all the people are complaining about how he
makes friends with the worst of people, we must carefully listen to what
is being spoken to us in God’s Word that is found in the first reading,
taken from a very beautiful and important passage from the book of Wisdom.
This author was someone who was in awe and almost overwhelmed by the glories of creation. We know this ourselves, from time to time, when we are in the mountains and have a sense of the splendor, the beauty, the glory, and the wonder of everything God has made. Or perhaps you are at the ocean, or just watching or looking at the stars on a very clear night and you think of the whole universe. What an amazing, beautiful thing God’s creation is.
And that’s the way the author of the Book of Wisdom felt, as any one of us does every so often. But then he tries to think of creation from the perspective of God, the God who made all of this. That’s when he says to God, “The entire universe lies before you as a grain of sand or a drop of morning dew falling on the ground and evaporating in a second.”
To us, all of this creation is overwhelming and we’re in awe of it. But to God, because God is so other, so different from us, so beyond us, all of this universe is like a grain of sand or a drop of dew that evaporates in a second.
In that sense, when we think of ourselves as being part of the universe, how insignificant we really are. Our planet, which is so important to us, when seen as part of the whole universe, is almost like nothing. And anyone of us is so insignificant in that sense.
And this is what’s so marvelous about this passage. The author says, “Because you God are almighty, you created the entire universe. Because you are so other, so different, so powerful, so apart from us, you are merciful.”
Often we think of power as being the opposite of mercy. Yet because God is so utterly and infinitely beyond our imagination and ability to even comprehend, God is so powerful that God is merciful.
We go on to read how God loves everything and everyone that exists. “You hate nothing that you have made. In fact, your immortal spirit is in awe.” Then we’re told how, by degrees, God corrects those who sin. Admonishes them, reminding them of how they have strayed. “That by turning away from evil, they may trust in you, O God.”
As you reflect on that beautiful passage that says so much and then you look at what happens in the Gospel, you get a sense of how this all-powerful God, to whom the universe is but a grain of sand, loves every person and has unlimited mercy towards every person. As Jesus says about himself, “For the Son of Man has come to seek out and find the ones who are lost. To bring God’s saving love to them.”
Zacchaeus was a person who was an outcast, a sinner, one that people hated. And they would think, with justification, because he worked for the Roman Empire, that he was part of the occupying power within the Holy Land. He worked for those who were extorting tax money from the people, those who were making them poor. He was becoming very rich. He was corrupt and he cheated. Nobody wanted to be friendly to him, except Jesus.
Jesus spots him in the tree and goes right to him and says, “Zacchaeus, come down, I must stay at your house today.” Jesus reaches out in mercy and in love. What a marvelous effect it has on Zacchaeus. Instead of judging him, condemning him, putting him down, saying he should be destroyed, Jesus reaches out in mercy and love. And Zacchaeus is transformed. This man who was a cheat, was corrupt, who deprived the people of what they had a right to, is turned around and radically changed because he is experiencing the love of God in Jesus coming upon him.
And so he can stand up and say, “Look. Yes, I’m rich, but I’ll give half of what I have away.” That’s a daring thing to say, isn’t it? How many of us would readily and immediately say, “I’ll give half of my possessions away.”
Even if we had far more than what we needed, we still tend to want to hang on.
Zacchaeus also says, “If I have cheated anybody, I will pay back four times whatever I did that was wrong.” He is totally changed because he is touched by God’s love.
And the people there in the crowd weren’t really very happy about it. They grumbled and complained that Jesus had gone to the house of the sinner. And perhaps we almost would want to be on the side of that crowd. That’s so unfair, isn’t it?
Yet that’s the way God is to every one of us no matter what we’ve done, no matter how we’ve sinned, no matter how we’ve fallen short of being the fully good person God calls us to be. No matter how much we’ve marred that image of God which is love in our own lives, Jesus is still reaching out to every one of us, coming to seek and save what was lost. That’s his whole purpose and it’s fulfilled so beautifully in this incident in today’s Gospel.
There are many lessons for us in this. First of all, we should just simply and very humbly thank God who has reached out to us in Jesus and brought us here to worship, to pray, to enter into communion with God. Jesus sought us out and saved us and brought us here. But then, also, Jesus shows us the way we have to be in reaching out to others. Not being judgmental, not condemning, not demanding punishment for everything, not demanding retribution, not having vengeance. This is true in our personal lives as well. Who of us hasn’t at some time been alienated from someone, maybe in my own family? Perhaps there’s been a hurt that I’ve buried in my heart and nurtured and stay alienated. Even from a friend. How easily that can happen.
Jesus is saying, “Seek that person out, show love to that person. Don’t condemn, don’t judge, but show love and forgiveness.” Be the one who goes to seek out the person. But that’s hard to do. Yet that’s what he does with Zacchaeus. And I’ll bet he was surprised at how quickly Zacchaeus responded since it doesn’t always happen that way. It will take time in some circumstances to win somebody back. We may get rejected the first time we try it. But Jesus would never give up, nor can we.
And while it may not be quite as quick and as complete as what happened to Zacchaeus, I am confident that the more love we bring into every situation, the more likely it is to be a transforming situation and a transforming experience with the person to whom we reach out. It transforms us, as well, because the more we love, the more we become like Jesus, like God.
We must also think about this in terms of our national crisis. There’s no one right now in our world who has been labeled in our country as a greater criminal than Osama bin Laden.
What if Jesus were to go to his house? Show love for him? Would we be like that crowd and grumble and complain and judge Jesus for being loving, even to a person like that? I’m afraid, probably, that most of us would be.
And how many of us are not thinking about what Jesus might do, but rather what we would do?
As a nation, what are we doing? We’re condemning, we’re judging, we’re trying to execute, destroy this person, and destroy all those connected with him. We demand that every nation in the world be on our side or be on his. And we’re ready to threaten to kill all of them, destroy them.
You know that Senator John McCain said, “Well God is merciful, but we are not.” Is that right? Of course it isn’t. We must be merciful even as God is merciful. We must reach out in love. We must be willing to forgive as hard as it is. The alternative is only to bring hate for hate, violence for violence, destruction for destruction, death for death. That’s the alternative. The way of Jesus is the only way to end the violence and bring true justice and real peace. At this moment in history, it is probably more important than ever for us to follow the way of Jesus.
I have here a copy of the Catholic bishops’ peace pastoral from 1983. I was reminded of a passage in it when I began to think about the universe, our world, the planet. In the document, it says, “The whole human race faces a moment of supreme crisis in its advance toward maturity.” Thus, the Second Vatican Council opened its treatment of modern warfare. And further on, it points out, “The crisis of which we speak arises from this fact: Nuclear war threatens the existence of our planet. This is a more menacing threat than any the world has ever known. It is neither tolerable nor necessary that human beings live with this threat.”
As Pope John Paul II said at Hiroshima, “From now on, it is only through a conscious choice and through a deliberate policy that humanity can survive.” The choice and the policy that we must follow, it seems clear to me, is the way of Jesus.
We’re warned now about germ warfare, chemical warfare and nuclear warfare. Our planet is at risk in the crisis of which we are now a part. Only by a conscious choice can we avoid the ultimate destruction of all that God has made. Only by a conscious choice to follow the way of Jesus can we bring his peace into our hearts and into our world.
It is absolutely imperative that every one of us make this choice in our daily lives to seek out, to save and to love. But, also, that we attempt to influence our national policy to seek out, to save and to love, rather than to destroy.
I pray God today and hope all will join in the prayer, that every one of us and our nation will choose the way of love and the way of peace.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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