2 Thessalonians 1:11–2:2
When I was sitting in the deacons’ space at the parish office yesterday, I was thinking that I’d better prepare some notion of a reflection on the readings for this Sunday in case Fr. Henry wanted me to preach. (We usually know well in advance, but he had an awful lot on his plate this weekend.) However, he did preach, so no need for me to wing it. Having thunk up this stuff (or more precisely, let the Holy Spirit inspire me), I thought I should not let it go to waste.
The Book of Wisdom has always been one of my favorite books, and it’s a shame that this wonderful text is not part of the Protestant canon. The passage from today’s reading has this beautiful, prayerful reflection on God’s mercy: “But you spare all this, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” (Wis. 11:26–12:1)
What a beautiful reminder this passage is—perhaps something we should call to mind when we feel puny, unlovable, worthless. God holds us in being by His will and loathes nothing He has made. And of course, we have to remember that this applies not only to us but even to those whom we struggle to accept.
It ties in very well with the passage from Luke and the story of Zaccheaus. Here, the reviled chief tax collector goes to great lengths just so that he can get a glimpse of Jesus—climbing a sycamore tree because he is too short to see over the crowds. (By the way, this tree is actually a type of fig tree rather than the European Maple that we in the U.S. call a sycamore, but still quite expansive.)
When Jesus calls him down from the tree and says that He will stay at the tax collectors’ house, the other grumble that Zacchaeus is a sinner. Now, remember that in last Sunday’s reading, we have a Pharisee and a tax collector in the temple, one self-righteous, and the other begging for mercy. And now we have a group of people walking with Jesus, very likely some Pharises and others who are disciples, and this tax collector whom they scorn. Luke has this fantastic way of setting up these moments. First, Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Plain about judgment, then he tells a parable about the same subject, and here He gives His disciples and example of mercy to follow. This is a common pattern in Luke: first, Jesus teaches, and then he gives an example of practice.
No doubt Zacchaeus knows he is reviled by the crowd, but he is so happy to be accepted by Jesus that he promises to give half of his belongings to the poor and to compensate anyone he has defrauded. If he’s half as bad as the crowds think, he would no doubt find himself penniless! We don’t get to hear the rest of the story, so we’ll never know what actually happened. However, we do know that Jesus’ call to him brings about repentence and conversion.
The passage speaks to me because at times I have felt like that public sinner, the one reviled by the crowd (imaginary or not), someone unredeemable.
But that’s not how God sees us. He looks beyond our sin to the person whom he created, loving all that are, and sparing us because we are His. He loves us this much.
In fact, He loves us this much.
He came for the lost, and He found us.
We have a job to do. There are a lot of people in this supposedly Christian country who have never heard this good news. They’ve heard things proposed as good news that sounded like nice ideas, or something that sounded like a get-rich scheme, or they’ve heard something called the gospel that didn’t sound like very good news at all. So we have to take the message out to them in a new way. This is what Blessed John Paul II, Pope emeritus Benedict, and now Pope Francis have been telling us and calling us to—a new evangelization. There are people who still don’t know that there is good news, and we need to tell it to them.
He came for the lost, and now we need to help find them.