Guess who’s coming to dinner

Seldom, I have observed, do we pause to consider of what the human body is comprised. Certainly if you are a physician, especially a surgeon, you will have studied and learned of the various components of our physical nature. Through modern science we have probed and examined in exacting detail, down to the subatomic level our DNA, the fundamental structures with which are constructed the physical manifestation and attributes which make each of us uniquely human. Should we compare the smallest definable component of our physical makeup to our full self we most assuredly must conclude that we are more than giants to the smallest element of all of which we are comprised.

Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus

And yet we are infinitely smaller than a mote in God’s eye. The universe, as incomprehensibly vast as it appears to us, is infinitesimally minute in comparison to God. “Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”1

Imagine! If we want, let us envision an ancient balance scale, a device with a crossbeam balanced on a central fulcrum. Each end of the crossbeam has suspended from it a pan. Upon one, something to be weighed is placed and upon the other incremental weights are placed until the two pans come into equilibrium; that is they are of equal height.

Now let us place the totality of all that exists, that is, the entire universe on one pan, and God on the other. God is bigger than all that he has created and thus the pan holding the universe, with everything, all matter included, rests high above the inestimable, infinite weight of God.

Then how incredibly small is man—a giant to the smallest part of his own design—to the universe, let alone to the unfathomable infinitude of God. We are smaller than small, certainly too small to matter much, if anything at all.

And yet, no matter how small, God loves all that he has made, as we heard from the book of Wisdom “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? … you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”2

Everything that is, God has loved into existence. We exist, not through any initiative of our own; but rather by his inestimable love are we at all. We could not be, could not exist for an instant, unless we have been willed and loved by the One who asks nothing but to love him.

As small as we are, especially to the infinitude of God, we too often live as giants, believing far more in our own powers than ought be justified or deserved. We place far too much confidence in our insignificance and forget our place in all that God has created. We fool ourselves into believing we are greater than we are and therefore refuse to submit to the One who is truly beyond our comprehension. We go our own way and in doing so we fail, we sin, we ignore and reject the One who has loved us into existence and sustains us with his love.

God, in his inexhaustible wisdom and mercy never condescends to our brokenness but waits with infinite patience for us to acknowledge his goodness and love. “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!3

Yes, God sees our brokenness, but he sees the good which resides within each of us as well. And it is the good that God wants us to realize, for it is never our brokenness that defines who we are but the goodness, if only we would look toward him in prayer and thanksgiving, if only we would love him more than our impoverished soul.

When we look at how Jesus treats sinners it fascinates, for he never deals with them as ought to be expected; his way almost always surprises. Consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector. What is it that we see and feel; what compels us to find fault with someone so obvious a sinful man? Do we not automatically and unconsciously convict him for his occupation and his wealth?

We know nothing of him but his occupation and wealth and yet despite his obvious sinfulness, Jesus again surprises—doing what we most certainly would not—by immediately calling for him to come down because he must stay at his house. Much as those who were present, we grumble and say, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

We forget that we are all sinners, each in our own way, but sinners we are and sinners we will remain. In finding fault with Zacchaeus we lose sight of our own sinfulness, eagerly placing our own brokenness upon his shoulders, trusting that God will punish one for the sins of all. But that isn’t how God works, is it?

Like so many things in life, what we see and believe often require more than simply accepting what our eyes and ears may discern. There is almost always, as the well-known radio commentator, Paul Harvey, would affirm, “the rest of the story.” So what are we missing, what is the rest of the story concerning Zacchaeus?

While wealthy, there is nothing to indicate that he was greedy. And perhaps it may have been quite the opposite. While the translation reads “half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,” Zacchaeus uses the present tense, which in the Greek language describes repeated, customary practice, which would thus connote that he has been giving to the poor on an ongoing basis well before his encounter with Jesus. While most translations use the future tense (“I shall give”), which is grammatically possible, many biblical scholars today claim this to be less plausible.

Zacchaeus then continues: “If I have extorted from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” This is a conditional clause, which in the Greek does not imply that he consciously committed extortion but only that if he discovers such; he will restore what had been inadvertently extorted by 400 percent! The Torah called for full restoration plus 20 percent interest. Zacchaeus surpassed this, meeting the terms of the Roman law.

One final point which bears witness to what Luke was reporting: The name Zacchaeus is derived from a Hebrew word which means “clean, pure, innocent.” It is a name that appears only once in the Old Testament: in 2 Maccabees 10:19; in the New Testament it occurs only here in Luke. It is somehow quite ironic that Luke would choose to report the story of “Mr. Clean, Pure, and Innocent” in such a manner even though poor Zacchaeus is rarely viewed as such.

Thus it would seem that we may have, as the grumbling Pharisees, misjudged Zacchaeus. There certainly is a strong case for believing that he was indeed a good man, one who frequently gave to the poor and those in need. His desire to see who Jesus was rather than mere curiosity or want to prove himself better might well have been to discover a deeper understanding of God, to grow in faith and devotion, to become all that he was meant to become.

John of the Cross, a great mystic, believed that the way we heal our brokenness is not to confront our wounds and selfishness head-on but by growing to “our deepest center,” to reach the optimum of our potential, to grow toward that which makes us whole—humanly, spiritually, and morally. Ask yourself: What are you good at? Where in your life does God’s goodness and beauty shine its brightest? Strive to grow always toward the goodness that is within and you will inevitably ignite a fire that will cauterize your faults.  God loves you. Show him your love. Amen.

 

Homily # 093
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Wisdom 11:22 —12:2 2
Thessalonians 1:11 — 2:2
Luke 19:1-10


1 Wis 11:22.
2 Wis 11:24-26.
3 Wis 11:26—12:2.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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