Love all things that are

2501-f4f1eToday’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.”

Continue reading

God hates who?

(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.

Pope Francis, a dangerous man, part 2

whatthewhat
So, are you still reeling from all the papal news of the past few days? My head continues to spin. I keep thinking, “What the what?” Nothing prepared me for what we are now seeing and living, which reminds me of something that I often say, but do not live very well… “There is no accounting for the Holy Spirit!”

The other day, I wrote about how dangerous Pope Francis might be. As we are told in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 8:

“The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

holy_spirit_memeThat is certainly an understatement! And how the Spirit is alive in our new pope, who clearly has not followed any pre-existing script. As a result, I continue to find him someone who is potentially dangerous. And I love that. As Jesus Christ showed us a long time ago, and as Jesus Christ continues to show us today, nothing is more dangerous than… love.

title otto preminger danger love at work dvd reviewNow before you go off shaking your head, considering this a seemingly insipid thought, please bear with me as I say few more things.  Any of us who are Catholic, or any other kind of Christian, cannot really profess our faith without the knowledge. Can we?

I can’t speak for others, but I am deeply moved by how Pope Francis is present to us. He has showed himself, thus far, to be a man who wants to be of the people, one to serve the poor. And we are all poor. I have no doubt his concerns focus on those who suffer from material poverty, but I also have no doubt that his concerns also focus on those of us who suffer from many other forms of poverty.  Like poverty of the heart, small-mindedness, division, and acrimony. Sounds like a typical day for me… *sigh*

pope-_inaugurationWhen he moved through the crowds at the installation today, he freely reached out and touched people! And I also loved that this is the first time (this is HUGE news unto itself) a Greek Orthodox Patriarch has attended a papal installation since 1054. Yes, that was the date of the East-West Schism. Bartholomew I, who leads the Christians of the Orthodox Church was present. As if that was not enough, then this happened…

Δεν μπορούσα να το πιστέψω, το Ευαγγέλιο ψαλλόταν στα ελληνικά! Χάρη στον Θεό!

I mean, the Gospel was chanted in Greek! Thanks be to God! (Greek was the language of most of the New Testament Scriptures in their original form, not Latin.) It also seems noteworthy to me, that a woman proclaimed the Epistle; I’m not sure that has happened before at a papal mass, but I could be wrong. And the liturgy of the day, St. Joseph’s Day, was celebrated, which I think is great. Joseph was also importantly highlighted in the homily. All of this is so exciting to me, and I find myself turning to many Scriptures as these moments and days go by.

My love for the Gospel is great, and I could point to many stories and parables that touch my heart deeply, but for today, I will focus on two stories that point to how dangerous Jesus was, and how Pope Francis follows suit.

zacchaeus_in_tree_slideThe first is from Luke 19, the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was the tax collector, a most hated man, who was short in stature and long on corruption. My friend Maria L. Evans and I have both imagined Danny DeVito playing him in a movie! This height challenged hustler is up in a tree watching Jesus. The story goes like this:
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”

Needless to say, Jesus appears to be a disappointment to others who have followed him, because he reaches out to the worst guy in town and wants to stay with him.”

James_Tissot_The_Woman_Of_Samaria_At_The_Well_525The other story is possibly my most favorite; the woman at the well, from John 4:4. Perhaps one of my favorite moments in this story is when the Samaritan woman admonishes Jesus for asking her for something to drink.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)

That piece of Scripture flashed into my mind as I watched this potentially dangerous scene unfold on the news yesterday.Pope Francis Cristina FernandezWhat is so dangerous about this? I am being a bit tongue-in-cheek as I say what I do, but I do have several thoughts about it all.

First of all, Cardinal Bergoglio and President Kirchner have a history together; one that is not necessarily a smooth one. Yet, he welcomed her, and they literally shared an Argentine tradition, una yerba mate.

mate2Drinking yerba mate is very ritualistic and it involves everyone sharing from the same cup. Perhaps you see where I am headed. This is good eucharistic theology, if you ask me. And thus, the pope, like Jesus before him, becomes a very dangerous man, by doing this so publicly, so openly, so freely, and so early in his pontificate.

Me… I really like it. That Pope Francis did this. Mate? I love the ritual, but I can’t stand the drink itself!  Now, there is a statement that could use a little theological unpacking, but I won’t go there today!

It makes me think of how fussy we can be, especially when at mass, not taking the cup, the Blood of Christ, which is equal in value and meaning, to the host, the Body of Christ. We are afraid of germs. What about the mate drinkers? They share germs. Are we afraid of germs? Are we afraid of one another? Are we afraid of Christ?

I think that this new pope may have some lessons for us along all of these lines. Lessons from a dangerous man, about someone who was really dangerous to many, but who is the savior of us all – Jesus Christ, our Lord.

With that, I leave you to ponder the dangerous power of love at work in the world.