Care for All
Thirty-first Sunday of the Year. Fr David Goodill suggests that God’s mercy offers us an invitation to share in his care for all creation.
As our knowledge of the universe increases, so does our sense of how small we are and how tiny our planet is in the vast cosmos. The author of today’s first reading from Wisdom also reflects on the smallness of the world, but here the world represents the whole universe: ‘In your sight Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling on the ground’ (Wisdom 11:22). With our modern understanding of the universe the comparisons here are yet more striking. God not only is greater than this vast cosmos, but to Him all that exists is like a grain of dust.
From this we might conclude that the world is far beneath the care and concern of God, but Wisdom concludes the very opposite, ‘you love all that exists, you hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence’ (Wisdom 11:24). When we see a picture of the Earth set in the vastness of space it can inspire us to renew our efforts in looking after and caring for our common home. Yet we are not really seeing the whole of the world. To see the whole of the world is to see everything that exists, every blade of grass on the earth, every supernova and red dwarf, at the same time and in every detail of their being. This is the care that God has for His creation, for all that He has loved into existence.
We could also conclude that such a mighty God would have no time for our human weakness, but again the author of today’s first reading concludes the very opposite: ‘Yet you are merciful to all, because you can do all things’ (Wisdom 11:23). Far from removing God from the daily cares of human life, and the daily sins we commit when going about our lives, God’s care for all is exercised particularly in his merciful love of sinners.
This love is seen today’s Gospel in the story of Zacchaeus. St Luke provides us with one of the most memorable pictures in the Gospels: the rich, but short of stature, chief tax collector climbing a tree to gain a glimpse of Jesus. A gift for children’s liturgy and primary school teachers, Zacchaeus is a comic figure, but his encounter with Jesus teaches us a great deal about God’s love and mercy.
The commentators on this passage note that there are two ways to read this encounter. The first is the standard way many of us have understood the passage, with Zacchaeus experiencing a conversion and promising to give back fourfold to anyone he has defrauded and to give half his possessions to the poor. The second reading has Zacchaeus declaring that he already gives half his possessions to the poor and if he happens to cheat anyone he pays them back fourfold. On this second reading, when Jesus declares ‘Today, salvation has come to this house’ he is not referring to a change in Zacchaeus’ financial dealings, but to Zacchaeus’ acceptance of himself: Jesus is God’s salvation and those who welcome him are saved. To accept Jesus is to undergo a radical change in life and conversion requires giving up those things which separate us from God. In the case of Zacchaeus, accepting Jesus will radically change his life whichever of the two interpretations we give to the passage.
Zacchaeus is short, but the love of God he receives through Jesus Christ will allow him to share in a divine love which expands his heart, so that he will come to share in God’s love of the world. The salvation Jesus proclaims is the coming of God’s Kingdom: the Kingdom in which we share in God’s merciful love for the world. The more we grow in God’s love the greater our love and concern for the world becomes. Though we may be small, and what we can offer seems inconsequential in the light of this world’s problems, God will take our small offering and use it through his great wisdom for the growth of His Kingdom.
Image: Stained glass detail of Jesus and Zacchaeus from St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP