Sunday Sermon for November 3, 2019, the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
The first reading includes some great lines on which we can meditate with great benefit: “You love all things that are and You loathe nothing 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 unless it had been called forth by You?” Sometimes we may think we are worthless or, even worse, that God doesn’t love us. However, these thoughts have no truth to them.
When we read that God loves everything He made this should bring great consolation. Moreover, God made us in His own image and likeness, which means we have the greatest worth and dignity of all creatures and, being made in the image of love, we are made for love. God will treat us only according to the purpose of our creation, so He only loves us. When we think He does not love us, we can be consoled by truths such as these.
The other half of the above quote is also of critical importance, especially for those who struggle with patience and charity. Nothing could remain unless God willed it. Sometimes when we experience problems or phobias we wonder why things exist. After all, our lives would be much more pleasant without these problems! When we use this reasoning, there will be no end to our problem list: slow drivers, mosquitoes, telemarketers, scammers, etc. The problem is that eventually, the only one remaining would be our own self. We would find some reason to get rid of everyone and everything else. Of course, we need to look at the only common denominator in all of these things: me.
We may not like many things about ourselves. Some of these, like our vices, we could overcome and remove from our lives. However, other things are non-negotiable. For instance, in the Gospel reading today we hear about Zacchaeus who, because he was short in stature, we not able to see Jesus. I would bet that many times in his life he hated the fact he was short. So many people are self-conscious about their size, especially short people and large people.
Yet it was precisely because Zacchaeus was short, coupled with his determination to see our Lord, that he received the indescribable blessing of our Lord coming to his home and, even greater, brought about his repentance and conversion. Although there was a large crowd of people, Jesus noticed the man who had climbed the tree. Only the one who was too short to see over the people in front of him saw the need to climb a tree, not those who were taller. What Zacchaeus may have considered a curse throughout his life was suddenly the cause of the greatest blessing he had ever received!
Not only did God create Zacchaeus to be short, God loved him for who he was and not for who he was not. God did not expect Zacchaeus to be something or someone other than who he was created to be; rather, the Lord preserved Zacchaeus because He knew the day was coming when Zacchaeus’ stature would be a great blessing. One has to wonder if Zacchaeus recognized this. If he did, I would expect he never complained about being short again. Indeed, he may have considered his short stature as a most precious gift!
So, God leaves things in our lives that, although they seem negative, they are actually the means by which God will bless us and help us grow in virtue. Most people and situations on our proverbial problem list help us to learn patience and charity. We have to learn to accept others with their weaknesses and we have to learn to accept our own imperfections and weaknesses.
In the second reading St. Paul prays that God would make us worthy of our calling. First of all, this means we are not worthy. The truth of our great dignity does not imply that we are so wonderful that we have earned the right to be chosen by God to be members of His Son and temples of His Spirit. No, we are worthy only because God has made us worthy. Now, by cooperating with God’s grace, we can grow in holiness and demonstrate that God did not make a mistake when He called us.
The people of Jericho thought it was not only a mistake, but a scandal, that our Lord called Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus proved them wrong by turning his life around. Perhaps many people think God made a mistake when he called you; you might be one of them. Accept God’s love for you, accept your dignity, and prove yourself and everyone else wrong by receiving God’s eternal love for you and living according to your dignity.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.