God seeks salvation for all

  • October 22, 2010
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 31 (Wisdom 11:22-12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

Some people gaze at the stars and lose their faith — what are we in the context of infinity? Others, however, gaze at the same stars and experience what can only be called mystical illumination.

The author of Wisdom can be numbered with the latter group. His ecstatic realization is that despite our apparent smallness and insignificance we are valued and loved. The world is charged with the grandeur of God — to steal Gerard Manley Hopkins’ verse. It is also charged with some profound insights regarding creation and God. God loves all things that exist, detesting nothing that He has made. God’s immortal spirit is in all things and God manifests compassion and mercy to all of creation without distinction.

All of this might seem to be just some beautiful poetry about God but there are also some profound consequences that flow from this theology. We rightly decry theologies and thought systems that despise material creation. And yet we treat the created order in a calloused and contemptuous manner as if it were something to exploit and dispose of at will.

If we take Wisdom seriously then the way that we behave towards creation cannot be separated from the way we relate to God whose spirit is in all things. And if God is compassionate, merciful and patient to all people — and His Spirit resides in all people — then how we treat other people cannot be separated from how we treat God. We are all interrelated — people, creation and God — and all three must be respected, honoured and loved. Hatred of others, morbid fear of punishment, fear of God and attitudes that are selfish or exclusive do not originate in God nor do they lead to Him.

The follower of Paul who wrote 2 Thessalonians had similar thoughts in mind when he counselled his readers not to be shaken by fear and anxiety. Many use religious language to unsettle and terrify, usually with a desire to dominate and control. When our actions and thoughts are rooted in love of God and others there is absolutely no need for fear. After all, Jesus is glorified in us as we are in Him.

Nowhere is this interconnectedness of all creation and all human beings more evident than in the attitude of Jesus. The human tendency is to divide people into categories: good and evil (often those whom we do not like or who are different), saved and unsaved, acceptable and unacceptable, and so on. The “discussions” that go on in the media, in politics or in religious circles all bear a grim witness to this judgmental way of thinking. Who are the types of people offensive to our sensibilities — whose orthodoxy, patriotism or decency we might disparage and deny?

In first-century Judea there was no one more despised and hated than a tax collector. Labels attached themselves very easily to these individuals: blood-sucking extortionist, traitor and collaborator to name a few.

And yet of all of the “good” and “respectable” people in this town, Jesus chose to visit the home of Zacchaeus the tax collector and dine with him. Such things were simply not done. One can almost hear the collective gasp and angry murmuring when Jesus announced His intentions. But something marvellous had happened to Zacchaeus. Having been accepted and loved unconditionally he now has a new sense of himself. Emboldened by his new awareness, he offers to share half of his possessions with the poor and to make fourfold restitution to anyone he has defrauded. Jesus recognizes that salvation has come to Zacchaeus because he too is a son of Abraham.

In other words, even those whose lives are in shambles do not lose their status as members of God’s family and God does not care any less for them.

Jesus insists that His is a rescue mission — to throw a lifeline to those who are drowning, not to stand on the shore moralizing and condemning. And that is the point of the three readings: God never severs or separates any part of His creation nor does God turn His back on anyone but works unceasingly for the salvation and healing of all.

A failure to love another human being is also a failure to love oneself and God.