Homily – 1st Sunday of Advent

With this Sunday, my friends, we begin the holy season of Advent—a time traditionally, for waiting and quiet waiting at that—smack dab in the middle of lots of rushing—here and there, impatient for what comes next.

The Church is wise in giving us these four weeks, encouraging us to slow down, a bit at least, in all our preparations for the season of Christmas.  The wisdom in slowing down is about preparing properly, setting the expected joy of Christmas aside for a time, so as to be fully aware of its true meaning—a season of love, pure and simple.

We might compare this time of Advent waiting to preparing for guests to come to our home—we diligently get everything ready; clean the house, plan and prepare special foods so that all is in readiness for the big day to welcome our guests. The same is true in preparing for Jesus to come as I have shared other years in the piece, “The Basement of my Heart.”  Jesus is always there—with us, waiting for us to be in touch.

The readings for this 1st Sunday of Advent speak to being “on a journey”—Jesus coming to us, but just as important is, us going to Jesus—it is a two-way street!   The more each of us tries to know our God, coming to see that we are mightily loved; we realize that we need, as in any human relationship, to respond to the love first bestowed on us by God.

This past week we were given a wonderful example of the kind of love our God has for us in the person of the late, Fred Rogers, as depicted by actor, Tom Hanks, in the new movie, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”  Some of you grew up watching, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and others, like myself, watched it with your kids.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was always a very peaceful “place” to go each day—to slow down, to listen, as Mister Rogers did so well, to each and every guest he had on his show, as well as, to learn many new things that he exposed us to.  He helped his viewers often to deal with hard issues that life sometimes gives us, and to celebrate the good times.

One thing Mister Rogers’ viewers always knew was that he liked us, “just the way we are!”  There is no better statement than this to describe the over-the-top love of God for each of us than the above statement, “I like you just the way you are!”—there is nothing special we have to do to make us likeable—WE JUST ARE!—in God’s eyes!

On our recent trip to Plains, Georgia, we had the great privilege of taking in one of former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school classes.  Part of his teaching was to encourage us, in our quest to better our world, knowing that we can’t fix everything, to, in the next month, do just one good thing for someone else—perhaps someone that we don’t know.  The idea was that reaching out to another, perhaps someone that we don’t even like, is the first step toward being more at peace within ourselves and our world.

Many times, we think we don’t like someone, but the truth is, we don’t really know them.  This is where listening comes in.  Mister Rogers’ hallmark quality was his ability to listen to others and in order to truly listen to another; one has to slow the pace of life, down.  Tom Hanks said in an interview that this was the hardest part about his playing, “Mister Rogers”—slowing down.

So, we might do that one good thing that President Carter suggested that could change our world and see the movie; It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, if we haven’t already.  Do it, my friends, not only for yourself, but for others too, because seeing in will make you a better person in the world in which you live! And of course, the disclaimer is that this movie is for adults, not children.

Each year when Advent comes around, it is an invitation for us to check in with ourselves—discover what is most important in our lives and what perhaps, we can let go of.  What is it that I am perhaps doing, that if I didn’t do, might make my life better? What, perhaps, would make my life better, if I tried to do it?  Now, I am purposely not suggesting any one thing in either the positive or negative category, as I think each of us is aware of those things either needed or not needed in our lives.

The prophets of old, and Isaiah is no exception to this rule in today’s first reading, were challenging the people to cease their warring with each other and be people of peace—there will be a time, Isaiah says, when “one nation will not raise a sword against another.”  This time presumably would be when the Messiah comes, yet we know that there was much war and conflict when Jesus lived.

I would think that part of the sadness of Jesus’ earthly life was his realization that “making war”—being in conflict with others, somehow, seemed the “easier,” if you will, option—to “making peace.”

And what of today—is this still true?” I was curious when thinking about war and peace, of how many nations are at war, in some form or fashion today.  The Institute for Economic Peace, an international group that tracks this kind of thing, says that of 162 nations they have looked at in our world, only 11 are not involved in conflict of one kind or another!—only 11!  Their measure for determining conflict in any place is if there are 25 or more deaths a year because of a particular conflict.  If we can train for war, why not train for peace?

“Come, let us climb to the mountain of God,” the prophet says, and wisdom tells us that this is much more than a physical climb—it is about looking at ourselves and what part we play in bringing peace to our own individual lives.  Sometimes this can be very daunting because the crowd often times chooses the easier option—that of “making war,” in big and little ways.  It takes a good bit of strength to be the alternate voice, the one that perhaps speaks for justice.

This past week, I read of one of the original, “Philadelphia 11,” as they were called in 1974, making up the first women to be ordained within the Episcopal Church, who has now died.  They, like the first Roman Catholic women ordained in 2002, went against the powers of their time to follow a call greater than the Church law that said this couldn’t happen.  The powers-that-control within the Episcopal church, unlike the Roman Catholics, agreed, one year later in 1975, that, “yes,” women should be ordained.  Yet, even to this day, Episcopalian women priests still struggle to get pastorates within the larger, more visible parishes.

And at this time of year, four weeks before the remembrance of our God’s greatest act of love, care and understanding of our human condition, our need to be whole, to be included—each and every one, in sending Jesus to be, one-with-us and show us the way;  this same lack of vision is still the case within the Catholic church.

Has the prophets’ call that we should, “walk in the light of God” ceased to be of importance any more, or is all of this ritual each year, just something we do, but don’t really take seriously? A good question perhaps and as we ponder it, the prophets continue to call, “the night is far spent—the day draws near—put on the armor of light.” Paul pleads to the Roman converts of his time, and to us through the ages, “it is now the hour for you to be awake from your sleep.”  Matthew, in today’s gospel, continues, “Stay awake,” and [be prepared.]

So my friends, how do we find our way, our direction in all of this?  I have always found that going to the Scriptures and really hearing the messages contained there is a wonderful place to look, again and again and again, especially if following Jesus is our intent, each year, each Advent—that we begin once again today and in each season of our Church Year.

We can’t just read the words contained there, but must make them truly part of our lives.  And that is why the examples of Fred Rogers, Jimmy Carter, the Philadelphia 11, the Danube 7 and many others who have done just that, are so compelling—we need to know that such goodness, courage and wisdom is possible and I believe that Advent is a great time to study peace, not war, truth, justice, and love and not their opposites. Now is the time my friends!  Amen? Amen!

 

 

Homily – Last Sunday of the Church Year–Feast of Jesus, Our Brother and Friend

“A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful and restrained. It, [they] can afford to extend a helping hand to others.  It’s a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other kinds of insecurity.”

The above words come from our 39th president, Jimmy Carter and by the picture that accompanies them on Face Book, these are words that he perhaps said many years ago when he was, in fact, president. They are interesting words to consider on this Sunday that uplifts the “kingship” of Jesus, our brother and model for human living.

It is good to consider in this light whether Jesus ever claimed this title for himself and the answer is, “No!”  The title of “king” is something from the earliest days after Jesus’ death, which we, his followers claimed for him.  Even during his earthly life time, his followers had the wrong idea about the meaning of his coming.  They wanted a “Messiah” who would best their enemy, the Romans and because of that notion, they often missed his words and actions which were more about love and turning the other cheek.

Former President Carter’s words reflect a leader who understands that to lead, truly lead, is a multi-faceted task and that strength is shown with a combination of gentleness, firmness, thoughtfulness and restraint.  This, my friends, is wisdom.  I believe we could say that Jesus’ leadership was about all of these traits too with the addition of mercy, kindness, justice, and of course, love.

So why then, the Church hierarchical’s insistence on “kingship” for Jesus, our brother? The source of this feast is fairly new in the time frame of our lives, dating back to only, 1925, when Pope Pius XI established it, declaring that, “People had thrust Jesus and his holy law out of their lives.”  His contention was that Jesus’ laws for life should play a role in public affairs and politics and unless they did, we could never hope for, “peace among nations.”

Now this in itself might be a good reason to establish such a feast day when many “in the known and accepted world” of the time were considered Christian and other faiths, while there, were not given the importance that they are today.

Today, with a much broader view of what constitutes faith and religious practice, celebrating a feast that speaks of “kingship” in a world that does not deal with kings per se, except perhaps, “wannabes” in certain places, seems, out of place.

Would we not do better to uplift the traits that Jesus actually modeled in his own life among us on this day, as we bring to a close one Church Year and move into the next, than to give him titles that he never claimed nor wanted for himself?

But in all fairness to those kings who ruled well over their people in past times, we might say, that a true king was one who cared about the people and knew that “service” was the true mission of a good king.

I can only imagine that Jesus didn’t choose “kingship” for himself because he realized the tendency among humans to misconstrue the true meaning of king as servant, for power, and power over, and he simply was never about that.

In the first reading today from Samuel, the prophet reminds David that his role as ruler of Israel is “to shepherd” his people and David, beginning his life as a shepherd, would understand the meaning.  Jesus, in his earthly life among us was crucified primarily because he tried “to shepherd” all the people—those in high positions, but more so, those in low positions, calling all to justice, to being their best selves.

When you are a person in power, with power over others, there is always the possibility of abusing that power.  Those in power when Jesus lived physically upon the earth didn’t want to be told by an itinerant preacher that their leadership was a gift from God to serve their people rather than themselves.  And the same phenomenon seems to be going on in Washington these days as far as “leadership” goes—serving the rule of party—self, rather than the rule of law, what is just and right.

Probably a truer statement was never made concerning the true meaning of leadership and what this call is all about than Jesus’ action on the cross recounted in today’s gospel.  We read that the crowds were tormenting him, “You saved others, why can’t you save yourself, if you are the Messiah?”  The position of being called to serve others, as messiah, as priest, as president is never, ever about how it can help those people as individuals, but about a larger calling of service for others and Jesus knew this.

Again, this is interesting to consider as we remembered this last week the assassination 56 years ago of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy. While not a perfect president or individual, as president he never sold out his country for personal gain.

So, with all of this in mind, friends, I come back to my premise in the early paragraphs of this homily—that we dispense with a title Jesus never claimed for himself giving him instead one that speaks more clearly of the impact that he had upon his world, that of brother, that of friend, of one who knew the life we lead as human beings and chose to journey with us as “friend” showing us as succinctly as possible how much we are loved by God. Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 33rd Weekend in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Friends, those of you who have seen my recent Facebook postings know that Robert and I attended the funeral of Jim Fitzpatrick this past week. Jim, a priest in the diocese of Winona, served actively in that capacity for 10 years after his ordination in the early ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

He left active ministry, or as his wife, of 45 years, Karen, said at the funeral luncheon, “he was shown the door!” after he went to the then bishop, Loras Watters to report his knowledge of priests sexually abusing children and the bishop refused to do anything about it except to persecute the prophet.

Throughout the next 45 years of their life together, (she was a Rochester Franciscan Sister for a time) Jim and Karen kept up the advocacy for those downtrodden, in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus.  Someone said at the memorial Mass, to get one of them, was to get them both, and they advocated together for the rest of their married life.

Jim and Karen were very supportive of women being ordained and Robert and I shared friendship with them as a result since the time of my first seeking to be ordained, as both were fixtures at many women’s ordinations that I attended.

But my personal relationship with Jim Fitzpatrick goes back to my freshman year at Cotter High School in Winona when Fr. Fitzpatrick taught our freshman class, Old Testament.  I loved him for his “fire”—the way he grabbed onto life and attempted to fire-up his students as well.  One of my classmates joined my reminiscing on Facebook quoting Jim’s frequent comment to us in class, “Come on, catch fire!” when we were less than enthused in class.

Jim also had a great sense of humor and love for life.  He always had a free question on our exams, “What should be done with minor seminaries?”  The answer was: “Bomb them!”—which in itself should tell you a good bit about the character of this man!

The homilist at Jim’s funeral liturgy, Sr. Catherine Bertrand, School Sister of Notre Dame, also a former high school student of his, shared why the gospel for the Mass was that of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  You will recall that after Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John; Peter, always the impulsive one, wanted to set up tents to house Moses and Elijah, present there with Jesus. Sister Catherine, thinking that Jim wanted to have her say something about “transfiguration” in our lives, asked him in one of their meetings as they prepared for his funeral, why he chose this gospel and was told, because it is the only place in Scripture where it says, “It is good for us to be here.”  This again tells us a great deal about Jim.

Jim began all his prayers with, “Good and Generous God, Sr. Catherine shared.  She said that the Delta Airline logo was one that described Jim very well—“The ones who truly change the world are the ones who can’t wait to get out into it!”

Someone who would pace back and forth in class, urging his students to “catch fire,” was one who truly believed and acted upon the idea that, “it is good for us to be here,” and to do all that we can to make our world better, for ourselves, but for all, because when all are included, have a share, life truly is better for us as well.

The readings for today’s liturgy call us to that constant theme of the Sundays in [Extra] Ordinary Time, a not “ordinary” time at all, that is, to be our best selves.  Malachi, David in Psalm 98, Paul and Jesus call us to justice in our lives—for ourselves and for others—that is truly being our best selves!

I spent the greater part of this homily sharing about a friend and mentor, Jim Fitzpatrick, because he, in so many ways depicted in his adult life attributes that reflect the life of Jesus—what, in fact, today’s readings, call us to.  And as with so much of Jesus’ message to us in his earthly life; I believe that we can all agree—it’s all about love, that’s it, plain and simple—LOVE!

But in effect, we realize that it isn’t simple, but very profound to make, “love” be the beginning and end of all that we are about in our lives.  And if, at the end of our time here, we can be “ convicted” of having walked faithfully, while maybe not perfectly, as I believe Jim Fitzpatrick did, in Jesus’ footsteps, that would be great for us and for everyone.

Sr. Catherine capitalized on this point as she concluded her remarks about Jim Fitzpatrick and his affect and effect on his world quoting the words of Teilhard de Chardin:  “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love.  Then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered, fire.”

My friends, I am grateful for this good man, Jim Fitzpatrick who showed me and so many others what love is truly all about—“catching fire,” getting out into the world” and being anxious to do that, sharing Jesus’ best gift—love!  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 32nd Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

My friends, you all know that Robert and I were away for nearly three weeks seeing the southeastern part of our country in our pickup camper.  This was an epic journey in many ways as we had decided before setting out that this would be our last, such camping trip, so it was mixed with the bitter-sweet that such journeys hold.  It was an ending to this kind of adventure, but a beginning and an opportunity for different kinds of trips.

It became clear to us early on and throughout our journey that we don’t have the stamina for this kind of travel anymore.  So it made many things more sweet, realizing we were seeing some places, and doing some things, for the last time.  Now that having been said; we also experienced a sense of relief in knowing that we had made a good decision.

Today’s readings for the 32nd Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time are full of the same type of life-changing decisions, or at least, the opportunity for them.  The reading from Maccabees is a very violent one documenting the lengths that people will go for a belief, both from the standpoint of an oppressor and that of the position of those being oppressed.

The Greeks served in this reading as the oppressors and the Maccabees as those oppressed. These young Maccabeeian men and their mother believed so strongly in being faithful to their God that they were willing to suffer horrible torture and ultimately, death, rather than renounce their God and while the Greeks didn’t hold these same beliefs, they admired what they witnessed in these young men and their mother.  We might ask ourselves whether we would have such resolve.

Paul’s simple prayer is that in whatever comes, he will be strengthened to better spread the word of Jesus, which we know is, love—love for all.

Jesus clarifies this basic message, giving direction as to how that should be done—not looking one-dimensionally at the world, but in many dimensions—“outside the box” we might say—as God does.  The Sadducees, spoken of in today’s gospel, were one of three Jewish political and religious movements in Jesus’ time whom he regularly had to contend with—in their very conservative thinking, accepting nothing but the Law of Moses. The Sadducees want Jesus’ opinion on who will be married to who in the next life and Jesus is basically saying—think broader, wider, higher.

As I think back to our trip, reflecting on what we saw and did—the places we visited, it seemed the Spirit directed our traveling to many sites that spoke of injustices suffered by many in this great country of ours over the years.  And even though we didn’t actually plan on going to all these places at the outset—it was more like, “Oh, this is along the route, or this site isn’t far off our general journey.”

The places I am speaking of included, The Peace and Justice National Monument in Montgomery, AL, documenting lynching of blacks in this country through the 1950’s, the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, witness to Martin Luther King Jr and company’s 40 mile march from Montgomery, pleading for equality for all people, a tour through the extensive battlefield of Vicksburg, MS,

a turning point for the Union at a time that this nation took sides against each other over the right to hold slaves and finally, a tour of Andersonville, the Confederate-run prison camp in Georgia, ill-equipped and irresponsibly led where in the course of a year, 13,000 Union prisoners died in squalor and neglect.  All these places caused us to think deeply about what makes a nation great.

Amid those places that we didn’t actually plan to visit, a couple of places were in fact on our radar.  Our trip’s furthest destination was to Titusville, FL, the home of the Space Center and we spent a full day marveling over the courage and determination of so many to stretch beyond our beloved planet to see, what is out there yet to be discovered! And of course, we had to get to the Atlantic Ocean and stick our toes in, at least, I did!

The highlight of this last camping trip was, we both agreed, a visit to Plains, GA and participation in our 39th president, Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class!  We had made a reservation to attend several weeks ahead of time, which didn’t guarantee that you would get a spot in the sanctuary, but only to let the people at Maranatha Baptist church know how many to expect.

We chose wisely to go on November 3rd as the previous week; President Carter wasn’t there due to a fall the week before, fracturing his pelvis.  Even up until a few days before; we weren’t sure that he would make our Sunday, but we had decided to go and pray with the Maranatha community regardless. The president was determined though, not to miss two Sundays in a row, so we weren’t disappointed! And here, we talk about greatness!

The event was quite a drama, complete with Secret Service presence and checks as is protocol for all present and former presidents and their families.  We began lining up at 745 A.M. for the 10 o’clock class on a cold morning, 35 degrees, and even being there ourselves before 6 A.M. to get a number, to stand in line, we were in an over-flow section of the church and watched the class on a television screen. Hindsight dictated that those with the best seats spent the night in the church yard!  But all of it was worth it to be in the near presence of a man who truly lives his faith and by example challenges the rest of us, to do the same.  You may or may not be aware of the fact that about a decade or so back, Jimmy Carter left his life-long Baptist community church because they would not admit blacks to worship. And today at Maranatha Baptist, the community has a black pastor!  And again, we think of the Maccabees and what a person might be willing to do because of a belief!

Of Jimmy Carter’s much fine wisdom of 95 years; I will share just one of his challenges to his hearers the day we attended and more perhaps, in weeks to come.  With all that he has personally experienced in his long life; first-hand racism in the deep south in his growing-up years, which he reflected on deeply in the ensuing years, the military during his years in the navy, the presidency, his experience in Ghana post- presidency fighting health issues, and his own bout with cancer;  he puts out there the challenge, that if our lives aren’t, for the most part, full of joy, thanksgiving and peace, it’s our own fault!

He went on to explain:  “We may not have the highest I.Q., or the most money, or all the comforts in life,  but we can deal with that and decide how we are going to live our life.  If we are not satisfied, who can change that, he asked?”  The answer of course is, “us!”  “This is the kind of person I decide to be! We can make that decision,” he concluded.  I think, we can see that this notion is about something bigger than our position in life, what we have materially, and so on.

“We have the God-given gift of freedom, he said, and God will never interfere with that!”  The hopeful piece that I took away was his assurance that we can go to God with anything, (and I think his 95 years have proven that to him)—that whatever life challenges us with, we will do it, “in the presence of God!”  So while God will not interfere in our freedom to choose the life we will live, that same God, sees it all, and will support us, no matter what! 

   So my friends, just as Jimmy Carter is a man of the Scriptures, and calls us to the same, today’s Scriptures call us to our own greatness—to decide what it is perhaps, like the Maccabees, like Paul, that we are willing to stake our lives upon and then go out there and live it!

This living will no doubt call us as did Jesus with the Sadducees to think in a bigger, broader way about life as we experience it, always being open to where justice isn’t in our world and then doing our part to bring it about.

And when we speak about “joy” in life; I think it behooves each of us to share all the joy we can!  In that light; I could hardly end this homily without sharing with you a fact we weren’t aware of ahead of time in attending Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class. Part of the experience is the gift of a photo op with the former president and first lady!  They have a fine-tuned “operation” for moving each family group through for a picture, on your own device in about 5 seconds or so, a piece. And on November 3rd, we stimated that there were 250-300 people in attendance, but in about 30 minutes, all the pictures were captured!  Instructions were to not talk with them or touch them, simply hand your camera off to the waiting picture taker and go and stand near the couple, one on either side.  We were flanked by Secret Service folks and it was all quite awesome! When we walked up, President Carter said, “welcome” as we moved to our place. With his “breaking” of the rules, we “broke” them too and thanked them!

So, to conclude my friends, it is great to be back with you and to share a bit of our journey.  My challenge to you, as Robert and I were challenged by Jimmy Carter, is to attempt in our own meager ways, to always strive to be our best selves, realizing that we do, each, have the power to make it so!  Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – 31st Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Dear Friends, 

Here is Pastor Dick’s second homily in my absence–thank you Dick!–Pastor Kathy


Reflecting on Jesus’ words in Mathew’s Gospel, namely, “Every disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who draws out from his storage room, things both old and new,” Father Richard Rohr offered the following perspective in his daily meditation last Wednesday:

 “Christianity isn’t done growing and changing. Jesus himself invites us to take things out of our faith-filled “storage room” and discern what is essential. We don’t want the church or the Christian tradition to become an antique shop just preserving old things. We want to build on old things and allow them to be useful in different ages, vocabularies, and cultures. We want our faith to be ever new, so that it can speak to souls alive and in need right now! Otherwise, the faith we cherish so much stops working and it can’t do its job of turning our hearts to God and to one another.”

What Father Rohr said about Christian tradition was also true of Jewish tradition. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see how Israel’s understanding of our God evolved from a powerful but frightening force in their lives to a just but loving, merciful and caring presence.

Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom was written only about 50 years before Jesus. Listen again to its beautiful description of our God: “Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain in a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate….

But you spare all things because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

Let’s now consider how this view of God blends with today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel. 

First, Jesus seems not even to have intended to stop in Jericho on his way through the town to Jerusalem, but somehow word got spread around that he was going to come that way and people started gathering to see him. One of them was Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man. He was wanting to see the man he had heard so much about. However, since he was a short man and couldn’t see over a crowd, he climbed a tree along the route. He literally went “out on a limb” without recognizing the symbolism of what he was doing.

His curiosity about Jesus and maybe some unrecognized hope deep within him, led him to take this awkward and isolated position, similar to the tax collector in last week’s Gospel who stood far apart from the Pharisee and simply begged for the mercy that he knew he didn’t deserve.

 Zacchaeus surely didn’t expect Jesus to look up just as he passed under his perch, just as Jesus had not planned to stop there. How did the shifty onlooker become the honored host? Perhaps, when Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, his heart went out to him. As Jim Hanzel pointed out in our Bible discussion on Wednesday, Jesus simply loved Zacchaeus–just as he was and clearly before Zacchaeus did anything to earn that love. 

Why did Luke (and, surprisingly, only Luke) tell this story? As Sister Mary McGlone, a Sister of St, Joseph, wrote her commentary about this Gospel in NCR last week, “Among the evangelists, Luke holds the prize for highlighting the poor with their blessedness in God’s eyes and for underlining the moral indictment their poverty brings against society.” Why then did Luke tell this story about Zacchaeus, a wealthy man? 

Maybe Luke wanted us to realize that there are many ways to be poor. Although Zacchaeus was wealthy man, as the chief tax collector, for all the reasons I described last week he was despised and viewed as a sinner.

As when Jesus saw the precarious position Zacchaeus had put himself in just to get a glimpse of Jesus, Jesus invited him to take the next step. In receiving Jesus into his home, Zacchaeus accepted this outreach of love. Luke quotes Zacchaeus’ conversation with Jesus to show the impact of love (grace) on this man: Zacchaeus said, ‘I give half of my belongings to the poor. If I have short-changed anyone, I will repay him four-fold.” Although wealthy, Zacchaeus was willing to part with his wealth, to share it with the poor and to make up for his former unjust behavior. 

“What does this have to do with those of us who don’t expect Jesus to be walking down our streets anytime soon? Perhaps it means he may come in the form of a stranger. Perhaps it might be a homeless person whose outward appearance reflects his condition. It might be a distraught mother yelling at a non-compliant child. Maybe an overworked father worrying how to get enough money to meet his family’s needs. Maybe a troubled teenager feeling inadequate to cope with life’s demands on her. In fact, he is present to us in all of them–if we are aware and go out on a limb through faith to recognize him.

Whether rich or poor, Jesus loves us. But we must not let our possessions be more important than he is. They must not be a barrier to responding to the needs of the poor.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom calls God, “Lover of souls” whose “imperishable spirit is in all things.” May we go out on a limb through faith and be aware of his presence in our lives—and as with Zacchaeus, Jesus’ love for us, just as we are right now, is what overlooks our shortcomings and makes us worthy. His Spirit alive in us enables us to respond with surprised joy and gratitude to fulfill the Father’s will in our lives.

Again, as with Zacchaeus, Jesus invites each of us to come eat with him, right now in this meal. Yes, Jesus is eating with sinners, with us. But remember, Luke ends this story with Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” which explains what he is doing here.