Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom provides this weekend’s first reading. As the natural environment has absorbed more and more public interest, the pope and other agencies of the Church have addressed the problems of exploiting nature. This reading, while composed many, many centuries ago, states the underlying principle in the Church’s current teaching regarding respect for the environment.
This principle is that God is the Creator of all, and the author of all life. It should be recalled that Wisdom was written in a world highly influenced by Greek philosophy, which saw gods and goddesses as being within nature. Jews understood God’s supremacy over nature and saw nature as God’s gift to all people, its vitality critically necessary.
For the second reading, the Church offers a passage from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
The natural environment in which humans live while on earth is marvelous, and as God’s loving gift, is a means to an end – eternal life, to which God calls us. Most of all, God gives us Jesus to guide us. The Lord became human, as are we, bonding with us in the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus redeemed us on Calvary. In the Lord, we find the way to eternity.
On our journey, we wisely utilize all of God’s merciful gifts, protecting and revering them for ourselves and unselfishly securing them for others; indeed, in future generations.
The Pauline epistles summoned Christians, such as the faithful in Thessalonica, to realize the wonder and greatness of God’s great gift of Jesus.
Never do the Pauline epistles lead anyone down a primrose path. They remind believers that the path through life, following Jesus, is rough, uphill, and crooked, beset with dangers and detours, attractive but dangerous. To reach our goal, we must remain on the straight and narrow.
For its last reading, the Church gives us St. Luke’s Gospel’s story about the Lord on the way to Jericho, an ancient city near the Dead Sea. Jericho was and is a city seated at the foot of the forbidding Judean mountains, a virtual oasis in a stark and lifeless terrain.
While Jericho offered security to many, only Jesus truly brings life and security. Here Jesus met Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus was wealthy, but his wealth was a burden. People loathed him because he was a tax collector. Tax collectors worked for the detested Romans, and the system made tax collectors little better than legalized thieves. Taxes funded Roman oppression, making life miserable for the Jews, Zacchaeus’ own people.
Nevertheless, Jesus, the Lord of life, God’s gift to Zacchaeus, saw Zacchaeus, despite everything, as a gift from God, worthy of the mercy of Jesus.
Climbing the tree on the part of Zacchaeus teaches two important lessons. Despite his wealth, he was subject to the simple, inevitable obstacles confronting everyone, namely the inability to see through others. Secondly, Zacchaeus desperately wanted to see Jesus. Material wealth brought him no lasting satisfaction.
In a few weeks, the Church will close this liturgical year. Then the Church will lead us into a new year of worship and reflection, but before then, will call us to close this year profoundly hopeful and thankful.
We have hope. We give thanks because we possess Jesus, God’s wondrous gift to us, the most precious of God’s many gifts to us. Yet God gives us many gifts to brighten our lives on earth and lead us to heaven.
This weekend’s reading anticipates the Feast of Christ the King, the great celebration closing this year. God loves us. He has provided for us the way to peace and joy. He is abundantly generous and merciful.
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