31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Wisdom provides this weekend’s first reading. An essential component in ancient Hebrew belief, and contemporary Jewish thought as well, is that God is the Creator of all, and the author of all life. For this reason, there is so much respect for natural life and for the processes of nature.
It should be recalled that Wisdom was written in a world highly influenced by Greek philosophy. Surrounding Greek philosophy was Greek mythology, which saw gods and goddesses as beings within nature. They had control over nature, of course, but they could exercise their control in ways not necessarily kind to humanity.
Furthermore, humans could use, or misuse, nature and the things of nature in this Greek world. Wisdom called pious Jews living among Greeks to remember their own ancient outlook on natural life.
For the second reading, the Church gives us a passage from the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians.
While the nature within which humans live while on earth is marvelous, and is God’s loving gift, it is not the end of all. The greatest of God’s gift to us is in Jesus. The Lord became human as are we in the mystery called by theologians the Incarnation. Through the Incarnation, through the redemption accomplished by Jesus on Calvary and in the Resurrection, and by accepting God’s gift of faith, we gain the supreme result of possessing the gift of Jesus. We gain life eternal with God.
Constantly, the Pauline epistles summoned Christians, such as the faithful in Thessalonica, to realize the wonder and greatness of God’s gift of Jesus.
Quite realistically, the Pauline epistles, and this reading in particular, remind believers that the path through life with God is rough and crooked and beset with dangers and alluring detours. We must be resolute in our determination to be with God.
For its last reading, the Church gives us a selection from St. Luke’s Gospel. The Lord is on the way Jericho, an ancient city not far from the Dead Sea, mentioned in several dramatic Old Testament passages. It is a city seated at the foot of the great Judean mountains, a virtual oasis in a stark and lifeless terrain. So, it was a place of security in the otherwise forbidding Jordan River valley and Judaean wilderness.
However, in truth, Jericho offered no enduring security.
Zacchaeus was wealthy, but Luke’s Gospel sees wealth as a burden. The poor are closer to God. They are unencumbered.
Additionally, Zacchaeus was a tax collector, a disgusting occupation among the Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus, the Lord of life, freed Zacchaeus from the heavy burden of his sin, and gave him life, genuine security.
Climbing the tree on the part of Zacchaeus teaches us two important lessons. Despite all his wealth, he was subject to the simple obstacles confronting everyone, namely the inability to see through or over others. And, Zacchaeus desperately wanted to see Jesus, realizing that wealth offered him no lasting satisfaction.
In just a few weeks the Church will close its liturgical year. The weekend following, it will lead us into a new year of worship and reflection. But, before the new year, it will call us to close this present year in a mood profoundly hopeful and thankful.
Hopefully, in Jesus, we have found what Zacchaeus sought. Our life, and our security, are in Jesus. When we have found Jesus, we have hope, and we give thanks, because we are one with God, in Jesus. The key to finding Jesus is in giving ourselves to Jesus, without compromise, without pause. Our union with the Lord must be as if Jesus is our king.
This weekend’s reading points us toward the feast of Christ the King, the great celebration closing this year.
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