(Today I repost something that I wrote for this Sunday in 2010. Today’s Gospel story about Zacchaeus is one of my favorites.)
There is a group of people, a worship community actually, that goes around from city to city, town to town, even leaving the country to go abroad to preach their message of God. You might see them in certain cities, near schools, in parks. Very, very often they show up at military funerals.
It is hard for me to even use them as the launchpad for this post, so I won’t call them by name or link to them. Their signature sign and chant might point out to you who they are – and even then, I present you with a parody of their sign.
Do you find it hard to conceive of God hating anyone or anything? It seems antithetical to all that our Church teaches us about the Lord. And even if God was displeased, do you think that God would encourage us to call people names?
In the first reading this week, from the Book of Wisdom, we hear this (emphasis mine):
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And 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 LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Yes, God loves all things that are and loathes nothing that God has made. Our God is a lover of souls and God’s imperishable spirit is in all things.
All things. That is the inherent dignity of each and every human person… No matter what.
In the second reading, a letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul offers the reminder:
…not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.
God hates who?
Again, so many claims can be made in the name of God, but we can’t be thrown off or alarmed by what is not of God. Yet we are given so many conflicting messages about how we are rejected by this all gracious and loving God that is is hard to not be “shaken out of (y)our minds” at times.
Of course God reaches out to us and through Jesus Christ offers us new life. And yes, response to that outreach makes some demands upon us to conform to the life Jesus gives us. The love of God is not conditional and it is very hard for most of us to really internalize and appropriate that in an integrated way. The only condition is that we respond and be transformed. God’s love is always there, our choice to be in that love is our own condition.
God hates who?
Earlier today I watched a video by Father James Martin, SJ.
In this video, Fr. Martin was reminding our LGBT brothers and sisters, who feel very rejected by organized religion in general, and whose lives may be at risk, that we are all beloved. I liked that in this video he said that Jesus was “always inviting people into community.” That’s kind of where we are headed with today’s Gospel.
In today’s Gospel from Luke we are treated to a compelling parable about Jesus and Zacchaeus. It seems that Zacchaeus was not just any tax collector. He lived in Jericho, a pretty rough and tumble town by many accounts, and he was one of the most reviled tax collectors there. That is quite a designation, the most hated of those who are hated. Not only did he collect taxes, he was quite wealthy himself, perhaps because he was collecting some taxes of his own. He seemed to serve not only the occupier, Rome, but also himself as he skimmed off the top. Who knows exactly what happened – what we know is that he was a real outsider.
Now it appears that he was short and as such, he had to climb up a sycamore tree in order to even see Jesus that day. An aside, Fr. Pat mentioned this in his homily – the prophet Amos was the dresser of Sycamore trees and Amos brought a message of repentance. In any event, Zacchaeus did seem determined to see Jesus, so he scrambled up that tree. And Jesus – being Jesus – did not say “God hates tax collectors,” nor did he wave any signs. No, he simply looked up at the right moment and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
This is not a casual “let’s get together” remark but an imperative. Jesus says he must stay at Zacchaeus house. Now people are unhappy because not only is Z an unpopular guy, he is thought of as a real sinner.
God hates who?
Here is Jesus – calling Zacchaeus by name and insisting that he stay at Zacchaeus house. That’s a pretty big deal and not done lightly – God knows your name, you have been called by name.
God hates who?
Of course, the good people of Jericho – you know, the ones that follow all the rules – are scandalized…. Once again Jesus does the unthinkable, he calls the outcast into the light. Imagine that, instead of Jesus going to the most upstanding citizen’s house he does the opposite by interacting with the man that Jericho loves to hate by getting him out of that tree.
After scrambling down the tree, Zacchaues does what? He makes good. His transformation is set into motion. He offers restitution and fourfold restitution at that. Can you imagine Bernie Madoff or someone like that saying that not only would he repay the people that he frauded, but pay them back at four times the rate?
Jesus is glad to point out what this means:
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”
This man too is a descendant of Abraham. Jesus has come to seek and to save what was lost and once again, Jesus has done so.
God hates who?
Perhaps the next time we are about to revile someone – a relative, a friend, a neighbor, a politician, a societal outcast, a person of a different orientation, a person of a different faith or of no faith at all, we should stop and consider the parable Zacchaeus.
And then we might know that it is Jesus calling our name, asking us to come down quickly, demanding to stay at our house, asking us to be transformed.
Zacchaeus stands for anyone who we might believe God hates. And God clearly hates no one.