A. It is a special pleasure for return to visit St. John the Evangelist Parish to offer Holy Mass and to take part in the groundbreaking for the new parish activities center. I take this moment to join with all of you in expressing our deepest gratitude to your pastor, Fr. Proffitt, Fr. Jim, Fr. Asigre, and Msgr. Auer – and his whole team – for their devoted service and for ably leading your parish into a future full of hope!
B. St. John the Evangelist has a long and proud history of faith, worship, and service. You are a vibrant community of faith and I thank you for your fidelity, for your witness to the faith, and your spirit of service to those in need.
II. The Reading from the Book of Wisdom
A. Dear friends, let us now turn to this Sunday’s Scripture readings so that we may draw from them the wisdom and strength we will need to live as the Lord’s disciples, indeed as ‘full-time’ Catholics in the week ahead, beginning with the Book of Wisdom, formerly attributed to King Solomon.
B. In fact, we do not really know who the author was, except that he was a Jew, who was influenced by Greek thought and wrote 1 or 2 centuries before Christ. In today’s reading he gives us a sense of God as the architect of the universe who is so wise and powerful that he easily looks after all of creation – and indeed every detail in the universe he created and maintains. “How could a thing remain,” the author asks, “unless you willed it or be preserved had it not been called forth by you?”
C. How do we fit into that universe? Are we cogs in a machine or microchips in a cosmic computer? Not according to the Book of Wisdom whose author goes on to say: “But you spare all things because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things.” Let’s think about that: the architect of the universe is ‘a lover of souls’ – a lover of each soul, yours and mine, meaning that God does not love us superficially but deep down. Do we believe that God loves us in such a deep and personal way?
D. But there’s more! The Author of the Book of Wisdom tells us that God’s love contains a certain pedagogy, he tutors us, weans us away from the sins to which we are attached and leads us to what is good and life-giving. Pope St. John Paul II once said that each person is ‘an unrepeatable reality’ – and how true it is that God concerns himself with the journey of each soul. Truly he is the lover of souls.
III. St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
A. St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is one of the oldest books of the NT, having been written, scholars say, around 54 or 55 AD. He was writing to a Christian community, a church, which he had founded in order to remind them how God, the lover of souls, was still at work in them. Let’s listen again to what he said:
B. “We always pray for you, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and effort of faith….” Paul wants the Church at Thessaloniki to develop their sense of how Christ, through the Holy Spirit, works with us and within us, so that the faith we received on the day of our baptism might grow and develop. Paul wants us to see that God’s love is powerful! If our faith is alive, if we are willing to engage God in prayer, then we build up confidence that God is indeed powerful – not only in the sense of creating and sustaining all things – but also in the sense that he can change our lives: that we are not stuck in the same old rut of our same old sins, that our relationship with God and with our families and co-workers can be better, that we can attain mastery over sin, even seemingly intractable sins which have a way of undermining our dignity and our relationships with others. C. So God cares for us deeply – he is the lover of souls. And God can act powerfully on our behalf – he is our redeemer – so long as we want see him, so long as we want to be in his company.
IV. The Story of Zacchaeus
A. . . . all of which brings us the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of St. Luke. If God could love Zacchaeus and bring about a change in his life, then it could happen in anyone’s life – yours and mine.
B. How skillfully the evangelist Luke describes Zacchaeus. He must have been something like the characters played by Danny DeVito, sort of like Louie except rich. Zacchaeus was short in stature, an operator, indeed a corrupt man who made a fortune collecting taxes from the Jews, taxes which were paid to the Roman Empire that occupied their land. He was considered an outcast, a sinner, an infidel.
C. Yet, the Gospel tells us, “He wanted to see who Jesus was.” He didn’t just want to see Jesus the way we’d like to get a glimpse of a celebrity, rather he wanted to understand this Jesus about whom he had heard so much. And he was so determined to do so that he climbed a sycamore tree so that he could see above the crowd.
D. But then what happened? Zacchaeus found to his amazement that the Jesus he wanted to see was in fact already looking for him. Jesus, the lover of souls, looked at him with love and it was that ‘look of love’ that changed everything in Zacchaeus’ life. Called by Jesus, he clambered down the tree, welcomed Jesus to his house, threw a banquet, and promised to make restitution to those he cheated and to give half of his remaining possessions to the poor. Those who thought of themselves at righteous grumbled at all this because they were looking at Zacchaeus as he was whereas Jesus looked at who Zacchaeus could become.
A. . . . which brings us to our take away for the week. God is powerful, he sustains all things but he knows us and loves us as individuals; He can and does act powerfully in our lives, if we allow him to do so. He love us as we are but he leads us, if we let him, to become the persons we were meant to be – for his glory and our happiness.
B. As you receive Our Lord in the Eucharist today, allow him to look at you with love, allow him to act powerfully in your life. May God bless you and keep you in His love!