The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Lover of souls

Meditation on the Mass readings
for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Jesus was passing through Jericho. The tax collector Zacchaeus, we are told in Luke’s Gospel (19:1-10), wants to see him, but is prevented by his stature. Luke presents this as a physical limitation, but one wonders if his “spiritual stature” also was lacking in some way—or if his deficient “stature” as perceived by his fellow citizens prompted them to exclude him. After all, the text states that “he was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not.” Perhaps it was a little of both—he was wealthy and a chief tax collector, attributes which imply greed, deceit, and the scorn that would have been directed his way as a result.

Whatever the case may be, Zacchaeus had genuine desire in his heart to see the Lord. So he did the only thing he could—he climbed a tree! The scene is an amusing one. When Jesus approaches, he looks up at Zacchaeus in the tree above him and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” And so the stature-challenged man (in whatever sense that applies) “hurried down and was happy to welcome him,” Luke says.

Jesus literally invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus. Isn’t it surprising that Jesus would do this? After all, the two did not know one another, and surely there were plenty of more “upstanding” citizens in the surrounding crowd with whom Jesus could have stayed. Besides, Luke makes it clear that Jesus had every intention of passing through Jericho without stopping. But he does stop, and he tells Zacchaeus to come down from the sycamore tree because “I must stay at your house today.” He hadn’t even been asked!

Overwhelmed with joy, Zacchaeus—although loathed as the wealthy tax collector and “outsider” that he was—receives Jesus into his home (or was it his heart?). Meanwhile, Luke reports, “all who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” In self-righteous horror, Jericho’s more respectable citizenry is shocked—and likely more than a little jealous! But as Jesus declares earlier in Luke’s Gospel, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:32), and also at the closing of this particular passage in Luke: “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (19:10).

With the foot of Jesus in the door, so to speak, Zacchaeus is moved to repent and atone for his sins, and so Jesus tells him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

It does not take much for God’s mercy to enter into our lives. All that is necessary is a small opening—often arriving in surprising ways and at unexpected times—and a willing reception. God will do the rest. God is good, and all that he has created is good, as the Book of Wisdom reminds us: The Lord “is 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 ... You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, who love the living” (11:23-24, 26).

So he pursues any who have gone astray “little by little” (cf. Wisdom 12:2) and slips into any opening he finds. Why? Because you have been fashioned by the Lord and lover of souls.

Whatever your spiritual stature may be—real or perceived—ask yourself: Where might God be inviting himself into my life?

--Adapted from Grace in theWilderness
by Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.
© 2013, Abbey Press Publications

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