Today’s Gospel is one of my favorites. Luke tells us the story of Zacchaeus. Most of us know by now that Zacchaeus has seemingly sold his tax-collector soul the Romans, and was much hated by his neighbors in Jericho. He knows Jesus is passing through town and for whatever reason – to hide from him, or to see him, Zacchaeus gets up in those branches. I always imagine Danny DeVito playing the role if a movie were ever made! Can’t you just see it?
Jesus, being Jesus obviously spots Zacchaeus. Instead of castigating him as an outcast and sinner, instead of ignoring him or denying him, he does the typically unthinkable Jesus thing and says:
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
Suddenly Jesus is not simply passing through town, he is staying. And where is he staying? With the worst guy in town. Needless to say, people are ticked off.
This year when I read, and then heard the Gospel at mass, I could not help but think of the recent Eucharist denial flap, which at this point is on Chapter Infinity. I’m not linking to it, you can go find that if you must. If you did not hear, Joe Biden was refused in a communion line in South Carolina. Traditional and conservative leaning Catholics on Twitter and media cheered! Many of us shook our heads in sorrow at this pastoral choice, an act in defiance of actual canon law.
A priest or Eucharistic Minister is not to deny communion to anyone. No one other than God knows the state of that person’s soul. Maybe they went to confession immediately prior to mass. There is no way to know. It is advisable for a bishop to address someone in his flock about the state of their soul, even a parish priest has latitude for that – but denying communion? It is an unfortunate and unwise choice.
Contrast that to Jesus meeting Zacchaeus. Here was the most vile person in Jericho according to the standards of first century Palestine Jewish law and culture. It was no mistake that Jesus changed his mind and said that he “must” stay with him. How else would Zacchaeus – or any of us – change if not for such an event? It is part of who He is that Jesus “must” stay with us. It is part of who we are that we often ignore or decry him, at our own risk.
Last night when I was at mass, the priest made a point that I had not thought of before. He spoke about the first reading from the The Book of Wisdom. Here it says…
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for you would not fashion what you hate.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O Ruler and Lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things…
Wow. How have I missed that all these years?
In this tragically divisive time, when people take great pleasure in all things disruptive, it is important to reconsider God at every turn. God has loved all things into being… you, me, Joe Biden, Zacchaeus, that troll on Twitter with a Latin handle and no profile picture, the commentator on the news that you loathe and think is a liar, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, that senator or congress person from the “other” party, everyone and every thing. Yes, God loved each of us into being and does not stop.
Not only has God loved each of us into being, God continues to love us. Love is not a feeling or emotion for God, love is the force of all life. Without it we would cease to exist. God’s imperishable spirit is found in all of us. The question is – what do we do with that? Do we hate and divide or do we do as directed by Wisdom and be like God, loving all things that are.
The choice is ours each moment of each day. Which one will any of us make?