I always felt it might be a little economically foolish to leave 99% of your investments to go off in search of 1%. And yet, Jesus does just that. And in some ways, when there is one missing thing, we can obsess over it. Think of getting a 99 on a test. Isn’t it the case that a lot of time is spent thinking about the one wrong answer, and not the 99 we got right? For the sheep, the 99 were in the presence of the shepherd. They did not need to be found, because they were already. The story is quite different if we think of it from the point of view of the lost. When we are the one who strays from Jesus, we are very grateful that he always seeks us out.
It is interesting that today’s gospel story of Zacchaeus could be seen as a summary of the entire gospel. The mission of Jesus is quite interesting, as fundamentally he travels around helping the broken to know they are powerfully loved by God. Zacchaeus, despite his wealth, is one such broken person. While the gospel does not explicitly confirm that Zacchaeus cheated people, his position as a tax collector, his immediate statements about correcting fraud and extortion, and the reaction of the crowd seem to suggest Zacchaeus has not always been a man of good character. But the loving gaze of Jesus, and a surprising invitation make a big change in his life. Here how the gospel can be reduced to four movements or steps, and see how your life can change by embracing them.
Three people. Three religious people. On August 25, 1849, Brother Gelisaire and two other Christian Brothers arrived in Saint Louis. They were brothers of the Christian Schools, whose founder, Saint John Baptist de la Salle faced amazing difficulty in establishing his community. But one man inspired three brothers who came to Saint Louis. And today de la Salle’s vision has taken root all over the world. This was possible through faith in God. Because de la Salle answered God’s call, a community and way of life was available to Brother Gelisaire. His trust created a school that has taken all students who are willing to learn and provided tremendous opportunities. Students at this school have answered the same call from God to do tremendous things. Grace is freely given. God generously invites all to be saved. What will you do to answer God’s call?
Today’s section of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans is one of my favorites. I’ve often used today’s first reading at funerals. I find the words of Saint Paul to be a great comfort in a world where I could feel small and helpless. God can only be separated from us by our own choices, our sins, but even then is willing to do whatever it takes to bring us back into he care and grace.
compared with the glory to be revealed for us. Can you believe this? With all of the trouble and suffering in the world, can you believe that anyone can say this? How is it even possible? How can it be that with the suffering and brokenness in others, let alone myself, that I can see that the glory to be revealed is simply that great? The gospel holds the answer. Even the slightest bit of God’s glory is beyond what we can know. And Jesus tells us as much when he gives an example of the Kingdom of God. A mustard seed, so tiny, becomes a large bush. The yeast is felt throughout the whole dough. And when it comes to God’s love for us, and the power of his presence, there simply is nothing stronger.
The prayer of the Pharisee in the parable told by Jesus is interesting. First, he prays to himself. Think about that phrase for a moment. The Pharisee may address God, but the gospel starts by saying the Pharisee prays to himself. Second, the Pharisee is the best in his own mind. Listen how often his prayer has the word “I” in it. And rather than seeking the grace of God and his mercy and forgiveness, upon which we all rely, he does just the opposite. He makes it a point to tell God how wonderful his is and how awful everyone else is. The one who goes home saved is the publican, the tax collector in the back who knows who he is. A sinner. One in need of God’s mercy. One who knows that even though he does not deserve God’s mercy, he can receive it if he asks with humility. What about you? Do you pray to God, or do you pray to yourself?
There can be a temptation to believe that all in the gospel is about Jesus only talking about peace, how believers will be always feeling calm. The challenge is that there are times when standing up for what is right means standing alone. While Jesus is always with us, it can feel like we are alone when others are against us. But if the choice is standing against evil with Jesus, or seeking peace at all costs, seeking the virtue of courage from the Holy Spirit to stand with Jesus is the most desirable.
We might not be used to reading the Bible in this way, but with careful notice one can see that often the events of the New Testament are foreshadowed in the Old. Today Saint Paul gives us one of the most common examples, the comparison of the First Adam, who by one act, sinned, causing us all to inherit sin, and the New Adam, Christ, who by one act, redeemed all opening the door to salvation. It serves as a reminder that we should do our best to hear the warning Jesus gives to us in the gospel. We should be awake, on guard, on the watch, so that we can clearly experience the presence of God wherever we find it.
It is kind of a pessimistic question Jesus asks at the end of the gospel today. “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Do we think it should be the case that prayer is easy? In both the first reading and the gospel we learn that it takes perseverance. It is hard. And it is something we cannot do on our own. We need, before all else, God’s grace. It is when we come with an openness to God’s grace that prayer can begin. And we need the support of others too. It is why it is so important to come to Mass. Ask for God’s grace. Ask God to help you to pray. (The apostles did.) Open the bible, go to adoration, practice lectio divina, pray the rosary or sit in silence. And pray. It makes all the difference, because you will be reminded you are never alone.
Sometimes we can draw conclusions about people based only upon external actions. And while part of this is normal, if we give it a little reflection, we often realize that making such a judgement on scant evidence means that we do not know much about a person. A focus on only the externals can cause us to miss the fundamental dignity of the internals. We know a person is more than what they do. In our lives of faith, we too must find ourselves concerned not only with what we do, but also with who we are. Our external actions must be motivated by the way we find ourselves driven by internal conversion.