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God's Word on Sunday: The true Lord seeks those who are lost

  • October 30, 2022

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Oct. 30 (Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10)

Many images of God compete in our individual and collective consciousness. Some of them are inspiring and lifegiving, while others smother the human soul. In its journey through millennia of history, the human understanding of God changed often as it was affected by experience and culture. The image of God is not static and unchanging, for the process continues. 

A stereotypical Old Testament image of God is often repeated in a disparaging manner: blood and thunder. But it is far more complicated than that, for along with more primitive notions of God, we are presented with divine images that are moving and beautiful. 

Wisdom’s God is the one most people would probably like to be with for eternity. Patient, kind and loving, this God treasures everything He has made, and no one is insignificant or without worth in God’s sight. This is the Bible’s answer to religious and philosophical currents that disparage the created world or view humanity as something loathsome and corrupt. Wisdom’s God is merciful to all, and we know from the Old Testament that the term hesed or mercy was the word most often used to describe God. 

But the text goes on — God spares all things because God loves the living. God’s immortal spirit is in all things, so when we think we are separate from God and one another, we are fooling ourselves. And when we do not include care for creation in our spirituality, we are turning our backs on something that God finds precious. God continually warns and corrects us, leading us away from sin and towards the light. Our “negative” experiences are not punishment, but an attempt to bring us to our senses and bring us back to the correct path. God is neither an adversary or a judge, and God always desires only good for us. We need not adopt metaphors of warfare or combat for our journey towards God — it is only warfare if we desire it to be so. God’s universe is a friendly place and God is as present to us as we will allow God to be.

The author of Second Thessalonians fervently desired to direct some of this divine energy towards his community. They were struggling and often felt alone and discouraged. God would make them worthy and would enable their good intentions, desires and deeds to bear fruit. Fake news is nothing new — some were upsetting the community by forging letters in Paul’s name claiming that the day of the Lord had already arrived. He calmed their fears — God was still very much with them, as God is with us.

The story of Zacchaeus is a stunning illustration of the power of unconditional love — the very same love that we saw in the passage from Wisdom. Ignoring the fact that as a tax collector Zacchaeus belonged to the most hated class of people in Judea, Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. People were shocked and outraged — why on earth was this holy man dining with such a sleazy and despicable character? This creature was collecting taxes for the hated Romans and filling his own pockets in the process. Most people judge by outward appearances, but not Jesus. He saw someone in whom the spirit of God resided and a person precious to God. He chose to focus on that part of Zacchaeus and to speak with unconditional love. The effect was dramatic — Zacchaeus had a dramatic conversion. He promised to give half of his wealth to the poor and to repay fourfold anyone whom he had defrauded. Jesus observed that salvation had come to the house of Zacchaeus, for he too was a son of Abraham. 

The mission of Jesus was to seek out and restore all who were lost. We do not lose our status as a child of God merely because our lives have taken wrong turns. Exclusion, judgment or hatred of another is a turning away from the God dwelling within them. Wherever we find one who is lost, there has been a failure of love somewhere along the line. Unconditional love seemed to work for Jesus — it might even work for us — maybe we should try it. Seeking out the lost is our responsibility just as it was that of Jesus.