Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Wis 11:22-12:2
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13-14
2) 2 Thes 1:11-2:2
Gospel: Lk 19:1-10
This summer NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope began revealing detailed infrared images of our immense and beautiful universe. This new space telescope was designed to give scientists unique, mind-boggling images of distant galaxies.
The images cover an area of the sky about the size of a grain of sand showing thousands of galaxies across the universe. Scientists can now study these ancient galaxies to understand their origin and their relationship to our galaxy.
One image, released shortly after the telescope launched into space, showed numerous galaxies in front of and behind a galaxy cluster as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago!
In today’s first reading, the Book of Wisdom offers a timely reminder that “before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
While we stand in awe of the splendor and vastness of galaxies, now seen in unparalleled detail, the Bible invites us to draw near to God, the all-powerful creator of this universe in all its immense and ancient beauty.
God, the creator of the universe, is a God of love. God is not an abstract philosophical being standing passively at the origins of the universe. Rather, as the Book of Wisdom tells us, God loves “all things that are” and loathes “nothing that (God) has made.”
God who creates innumerable galaxies in their mysterious beauty is the same God who has personally loved each of us into being, creating us in and for love of God and neighbor.
The Bible tells us that divine love does not remain distant, like far-away galaxies. Rather God sent his only son, Jesus, to become one of us in all things, except sin, so we might draw close to God in friendship and be renewed in the power of divine love.
This personal nature of divine revelation is seen especially in Gospel encounters when Jesus who goes out to meet sinners and outcasts.
In today’s Gospel, we read of one such personal encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector. This wealthy man, despised by his community, desired to see Jesus and was prevented from seeing him because of the crowd and his small stature.
As he climbed a tree to see Jesus passing by, we are told that Jesus looked up to him and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus was personal and life changing. Zacchaeus was radically transformed as Jesus, the son of God, looked at him with the fullness of divine love and mercy.
Zacchaeus responded with faith in Jesus and embraced a new life of love of God and neighbor, expressed in sharing half his possessions with the poor and restoring what he had taken unfairly from his community.
God desires your friendship and the friendship of all those who are lost. And this divine desire inspires us to the same awe and wonder we experience in seeing telescopic images of the universe. May we recognize God’s face in the poor and the lost as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How do you encounter Jesus in your daily journey of faith?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.