Love the spirit in all

  • October 26, 2007
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 4 (Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

An encounter with other cultures, ideas and philosophical systems should never leave us unchanged. Often it is an enriching experience, as it was for the Israelites. They did not leave Egypt or Babylon empty-handed. In Egypt they borrowed some of the customs they would later practise, and later they would adopt portions of Egypt’s wisdom tradition. In Babylon they refined their views of God by adapting and transforming Babylonian creation myths. It was during this sojourn that they developed a theology of angels and of the resurrection of the dead.

The book of Wisdom is a recasting of Israel’s tradition in light of its encounter with the tradition of Greek philosophy that was dominant in the three centuries before the birth of Christ. In this passage one finds a view of God different from the most primitive layers of the Scriptures. The God of Wisdom is not at all a capricious or wrathful deity. The message of Genesis, that creation is good, is wedded with Greek rationalism and universalism. An all-encompassing intelligence and compassion created and rules the universe. Nothing can be cut off or excluded from that creative and sustaining force. God’s sole intention for humankind is wholeness, salvation.

If God loves all that God has created, detesting none of it, how can humans continue to treat the Earth with such contempt by exploiting and defiling it? If God’s immortal spirit is truly in all created things, then creation must be treated with reverence and respect. The universe is alive and we are a vital part of it, not mere observers. But even more than that, when we hate or do violence to another human being we are also doing the same to God.

God’s immortal spirit resides in our worst “enemies” and even in those whose lives might not be much to brag about. Christianity has absorbed elements from many sources over the centuries: Plato and Aristotle as well as the practices of many pre-existing religions. Today our main encounter is with the great world religions. This will be an enriching encounter if we enter with a spirit of true dialogue — minus a sense of superiority. This does not mean labelling the other party as wrong or defective, but being willing to listen and to learn. The evolution of our spiritual tradition continues, nourished and sustained from many different sources. What will our theology be like in a hundred years?

The author of Second Thessalonians is hard-pressed to counter the overactive rumour mills. End-time hysteria has overtaken some of the local communities and later on in the letter it is evident that some have even stopped working. The Lord has not come, and if any really wish to glorify Him, they should remain focused and faithful. It is extremely important that when He does come, we are found to be living the life to which He has called us.

The story of Zacchaeus is a perfect expression of the first reading. God cannot and will not hate anything or anyone He has created, even those engaged in questionable or unjust behaviour. We are still accountable for our actions, but we are not on the receiving end of hatred and wrath. Jesus is perfectly aware of Zacchaeus’ hated profession and He certainly is not giving His seal of approval to being a tax collector for the Romans. But that does not define Zacchaeus. With unconditional love and an absence of judgment, Jesus recognizes God’s spirit within Zacchaeus and calls forth that innate goodness. The results are dramatic — Zacchaeus experiences a complete conversion of heart and mind. He too is a son of Abraham and does not lose that status because of mistakes or poor choices.

It would be beneficial for all if we were to practise this approach during the heated debates taking place on a variety of issues, even the struggle with violence and terrorism. Using the language of exclusion or demonization is a typical human response but it has not been at all helpful in building a just and peaceful world or life-giving church communities. God’s way — exemplified by Jesus — recognizes and loves the spirit of God in all people.