What does it mean to you when you read these words from Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost”? Many of us fail to truly comprehend the key point in this reading. Too often we act like the Pharisees who questioned why Jesus would dine with Zacchaeus. How do we react to others who are living in sin? Do we respond with love or condemnation? The answer to this question says a lot about us and our understanding or lack of understanding of God. Please read more.
Today I want to draw your attention to two readings. Viewed together, they give us a good lesson. The first one might be unfamiliar to many of you. It comes from The Book of Wisdom 11:22-12:2. Some of you may know this by the name, the Wisdom of Solomon. Some may be completely unfamiliar with this book. The second reading we will examine is Luke 19:1-10.
Note: The Book of Wisdom comes from what is known as the Apocrypha. These books are contained in some Bibles and omitted from others. Over the years, the inclusion of these books as part of the Canonical Books of the Bible have been debated. Today we will sidestep that debate. The Apocrypha can provide invaluable insight into first-century Jewish views on salvation. They provide a historical context for the Gospels and they provide a window on how early Jews interpreted canonical writings. Finally, as viewed by C. S. Lewis, the Apocrypha can be edifying even if you believe them to be non-authoritative. So even if the Book of Wisdom is not in your Bible, I feel certain it has an important message for all of us today.
In Wisdom 11:22-12:2, we read this about God. “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made.” Later, it says, “you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!” Finally, it offers us this, “Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”
Certainly, we are all familiar with the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. Jesus, knowing that Zacchaeus was a tax collector and a sinner, singles him out and says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” When the Pharisees saw this, they began to grumble, saying of Jesus, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” Zacchaeus responds to the Lord’s love and says, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” This passage ends with these words from Jesus. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
As I stated above, when these two passages are studied together, they can offer valuable insight. Notice in Wisdom, that God loves all things, spares all things, and loathes nothing that He made. Essentially this is the definition of mercy. Since we are called to be like Jesus, we should seek to react like Jesus. When Jesus encounters Zacchaeus, He knows he is a sinner, but He reacts to Him with love. He does not proclaim the law nor the Torah to him. He does not preach to him nor does He talk about repentance. He simply loves him.
Compare this to how the Pharisees react. Jesus embraced the one who others saw as unlovable. Why did it bother the Pharisees that Jesus loved Zacchaeus? Why was it any of their business? Why did they have a problem? Maybe it bothered them because as long as they could look down their noses at Zacchaeus, they could feel better about themselves. They felt superior to him. Jesus’ love transformed Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus had been extorting people as a tax collector for a long time. He had been sinning for a long time. Now let’s look again at the Book of Wisdom. It tells us that God transforms us little by little. He warns and remind us of our sins over time so that we can eventually abandon our sins and believe in Jesus. Christian maturity does not happen in an instant. God created the maturation process. It’s His plan. We learn from our mistakes. During the learning and maturing process, He never stops loving us.
The Original sin of Adam and Eve was their desire to instantly be like God. When we expect an instantaneous transformation in our own lives, rather than participating in God’s plan for a slow maturing process, we share in their original sin. Spiritual maturity takes time. Eventually Zacchaeus reached that spiritual maturity. When he did, transformed by the love of Jesus, he repented and did penance. He gave back what he had extorted and more. In grumbling about Jesus and Zacchaeus, the Pharisees only revealed their own short comings. When we complain about others and point out their faults to make ourselves look good, we are acting like Pharisees.
The combined point of these two passages is this: Jesus loves all, spares all and loathes no one. He came to seek and save the lost. It takes time to overcome our sinful ways. He never stops loving us as we mature even when we fall short. Finally, if we desire to be like Jesus, we need to learn to accept His love and treat others, (who are sinners like us), with that same love.
Heavenly father, sometimes I grow frustrated with myself because I continually fall short and sin. I also act Pharisaical when I condemn others who sin. I know you never stop loving me. Help me to love myself like you love me and help me to love others who struggle with sin too. Little by little, with your grace, we can reach spiritual maturity. Amen.
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Don’t forget to mark your calendars
On December 6-8, 2019, I will be leading a 3 day Advent Retreat. Catholics as well as non-Catholics are welcome to attend. Fr. Ed Sheridan will join us to celebrate Catholic mass and Reconciliation will be available. Author Joseph Galloway will be giving a talk about his book The Broken Door and will be signing books. The retreat is being held at the Catholic Conference Center in Hickory, NC. It’s beautiful! I hope you can join us. Click this link to sign up.