November 4, 2007
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Power. Countless numbers of people want it, countless numbers of people will do whatever it takes to get it and countless numbers of people will misuse it. Power is the subject of entertainment and is the source of a great number of crimes. We human beings think we are so powerful. Yet what do we lift up as power? Money, land, bombs, guns, politics, etc. We think these things are powerful and we don't stop to think that all these things can be taken away in an instant.
Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom shows us what true power is and it isn't with us but God. We read in Wisdom: "Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth." That's power! To God, the universe is no more than a grain of sand or a drop of dew. Yet we humans like to think that because we can push a button and all manner of things happen, good and bad, that we are powerful. A bit arrogant on our part to say the least.
Not long ago I was saying Mass at a parish out of town and afterwards I was approached by someone who was furious over something that had happened recently. A former parishioner who hadn't darkened the doors in decades had died and was buried from the parish. This man had been, to put it kindly, a bad seed. He was rather notorious in that area. Apparently, on his death bed, he took stock of his life and realized his sinfulness and called for the priest and made his confession and made peace with God. The person who was angry and venting to me, was furious over the fact that God forgave this man and the priest had enabled this sinner to be saved! Wow! Mad at God because God showed mercy! That experience has been bouncing around in my head especially with today's readings. God is power. God is the source of all that is good in the world. If the universe is but a grain of sand to God, then where do we get off thinking that we are the powerful ones?
Our Gospel text today is another example of God's great power. Jesus is walking through Jericho and he comes across Zacchaeus. Now Zacchaeus was a tax collector for the Roman Empire. This meant he was a licensed extortionist and he was free to charge what he wanted as long as the Empire got what it required. Zacchaeus was a hated man and was a sinner in the eyes of the religious folk. I would dare say the religious folk were salivating at the thought of Jesus condemning Zacchaeus and making a public display of him. So. What does Jesus do? He forgives him and then goes to stay with him at his house. How dare he! What's up with this? How can Jesus be so forgiving? Does Jesus not care about sin? Does Jesus condone what Zacchaeus has been doing? Of course not! To think otherwise is silly at best. Jesus forgives because he is doing the will of the Father and that will is that all people be saved.
God's power is in his mercy and not condemnation. God's power is his willingness to save rather than destroy. It doesn't take much power to destroy. It takes power to forgive, console, reconcile, and give life. God's great gift of forgiveness and life is not a sign that he is weak and condones sin but rather it is the sign of his absolute power and love! God's love is power!
So what happens after Jesus forgives Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus gives half of his wealth to care for the poor and then goes even further. Zacchaeus goes forth and restores to those he has wronged not just the amount he stole from them but repays four times over! Zacchaeus' experience of God's great power brings life not only to him but brings comfort and support to countless numbers of people. What would have happened if Jesus would have followed the will of the religious folk and condemned instead of granting forgiveness? There would have been more misery and theft and Zacchaeus would have been lost. God's great power of mercy transformed the lives of countless numbers of people that day. Now that's power!
So back to that man who was buried from the parish I was visiting. God exercised his power and the man was forgiven. God's power rescued this man and redeemed him, reconciled him and restored him. The person who was furious over this, I believe, was rejecting God's power and as a result was missing out on a miracle. The one who was angry was in a place where God's great gifts of joy could not be received due to the harboring of resentment, selfishness, and a refusal to acknowledge that God is power and not us humans. We are the creation not the Creator.
If we refuse to accept God's power, if we think that God should do our will, then we are the ones who are showing our absolute weakness. We are invited to share in God's power of life. What a shame if we miss out on God's power of life all because we can't let go of our own selfish and wrong ideas about power.