As we remember, in “Ordinary Time” the Sunday scripture is to help us to focus on the meaning of our lives and how we follow in various ways the Catholic Way of Life. The scripture through its narrative and symbols offers to us many, many possibilities of insight and understanding. Some of these are welcome, and some are not. Our lives today do not include much time for reflection and insight. The time at Mass and the reading of sacred scripture can help us discover and discern ways to make our lives deep and fuller.
It is important to remember that the Book of Wisdom was composed by Jews who were assimilated into the Greek culture of that time and were living in Alexandria, Egypt. Because this book was originally composed in Greek, it was never allowed into the official Canon of Hebrew Sacred Scripture. From sociological history, it is very clear that Alexandria was one of the most important centers of culture and learning in the eastern Mediterranean area. The many Jews who lived in this vibrant city wanted and enjoyed living and relating to people who were very open and also looked for change as a way of life. Thus this book of bible responded to the desires of the people for change, but also gave insights and explanations of the old ways of Judaism.
Our reading from Wisdom responds to the scientists of then who were uncovering the deeper mysteries of the physical world and to many philosophers who were busily dividing the world into the conflicting principles of good and evil. This is in contrast to the learning of a transcendent creator God of the whole universe who loves “all things that are” and holds everything in existence.
In the Gospel, when we learn about Zacchaeus scrambling up the sycamore tree, we understand that he had long since given up on a God who kept him in existence. Zacchaeus would be considered a sharp man who used all his knowledge and skill to flourish and prosper greatly. He laughed all the way to the bank and did not seem to mind that the powerless poor hated him. This little man was far from God and also far from the wisdom of Israel. In life Zacchaeus paid attention and very little escaped his notice. It is clear that he was curious to see what this Jesus was like. As a result he quite cleverly climbed up a tree, where he could easily see Jesus as he walked by. Do not forget that Jesus, as a result, could easily see him. Indeed Jesus did see him through and through and discerned that this was the right time to ultimately invite Zacchaeus to follow him. So Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus then stood tall, in a contemporary phrase “he leaned into it”, and became self-conscious and began to defend himself and Jesus from the undertow of murmurs of the crowd. He was responding to being called a sinner and that Jesus would dine with him.
It is clear that Zacchaeus wanted to be seen positively. His words show a sincere purpose of amendment and change. The words of Jesus in many ways echo the thoughts and ideas of our first reading. Zacchaeus, who welcomed Jesus into his house, is himself the recipient of salvation. Recall that the God who loves all things, hates nothing, and spares all things is the God of Abraham and of this particular son of Abraham, who this day is “coming home.” We know that Zacchaeus had long ago given up searching for God’s salvation, but we hear in this story that this day he receives it from the God who searched for him.
There is a great truth in this story of Zacchaeus who has spent most of his life cheating justice. He learned in one day about mercy. For the rest of his life, this changed man will live as a person who was sought, found, and saved by a God who is always anxious for his soul.
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