30 October 2016: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Wis 11:22-12:2 Ps 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14 2 Thes 1:11-2:2 Lk 19:1-10

The mercy that searches out disciples

Green_banner_smDuring Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings invite us to think about discipleship and God’s mercy.

In the first reading the Wisdom author reflects on the paradox of God’s infinite power and God’s infinite mercy. Despite God’s power and majesty (“the universe is like a grain in a balance”), God is “merciful to all.” God “overlooks our sins” to give us a chance to metanoia–“turn back” to God. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the theme of mercy in today’s gospel reading.

In the second reading the author tells the Thessalonians not to be “shaken” by rumors that Jesus has already returned, marking the “day of the Lord” and the final judgement. The Thessalonica ekklasia has been “stirred up” by people within their community speculating about Jesus’ return. As we get closer to the end of the liturgical year (20 November 2016), the Sunday readings will focus more and more on the end times.

In the gospel, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, whose name in Hebrew means “to be pure or clean.” The crowd, however, thinks Zacchaeus is anything but pure–he’s a head tax collector and a Roman collaborator. The story asks us to think about Jesus’ requirements for discipleship and God’s mercy to us. Consider the following:

  • Seeking: Luke says that Zacchaeus seeks Jesus (v 3). Luke uses the Greek word ζητέω (dzay-TEH-oh), which means not only “to investigate” but “to search for actively.” Luke hints that Zacchaeus wants more than a glimpse of Jesus; he wants to be Jesus’ disciple. (In verse 10 Jesus uses the same Greek word to tell his disciples that he is actively searching “for the lost.”)
  • Staying: Jesus tells the up-a-tree Zacchaeus to hurry down so Jesus can stay with Zacchaeus at his house (v 5). Luke uses the Greek word μένω (MEN-oh), which means not only “to lodge” but “to remain.” Jesus knows that Zacchaeus seeks discipleship, and Jesus offers to remain with him. (In verse 10 Jesus tells his disciples that “today salvation has come to this house,” indicating that Jesus’ remaining presence gives salvation.)
  • Living God’s teachings: Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he “is already giving half his possessions” to the poor (v 8). Luke uses a Greek verb tense that indicates Zacchaeus’ giving started in the past and is continuing, not a future event (“I shall give”) as translated in today’s reading. That is, Zacchaeus is already fulfilling Mosaic Law (and exceeding its requirements). Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus’ righteous by calling him a “son of Abraham” (v 9).

Today’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to examine our discipleship in light of God’s mercy. The first reading reminds us that God is merciful to all. The gospel reiterates Jesus mission: actively seeking and saving the lost. Jesus actively searches for us as disciples. Disciples actively search for Jesus and live his teachings. Jesus remains with his disciples, bringing mercy and salvation. Are we continually searching out Jesus, or do we think we have found out all we need to know? Do we find continuing joy in Jesus’ abiding presence, or do we see him as an occasional visitor?

—Terence Sherlock

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