Archive for October, 2016

God Loves Even Those Who Are Lost

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wis 11:22 – 12:2; 2 Thes 1:11 – 2:2; Lk 19: 1-10

By Deacon Larry Brockman

Isn’t it wonderful how much God loves us!    Listen again to these words from Wisdom:  “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made”.  How could it be otherwise?  How could God loathe anything that He had made; else He wouldn’t have made it.  And that is such good news for all of us, because no matter how far astray we go or have gone, God still loves us; for he still loves all things He made.   

And yet, we can get lost, can’t we?  We can get very far off the right path like the prodigal son in the story a couple of weeks ago, so lost that we separate ourselves from the love of God.  And so, whether God still loves us or not, we can experience the pain of separation from God.   

It might not seem like it at first, but Zacchaeus was one of those folks who had gotten lost.  We know that Zacchaeus was a Jew from the context of the Gospel.  But Zacchaeus had elected to become a tax collector for the hated Roman establishment.  That meant he hounded his fellow citizens to collect taxes.  Not only was Zacchaeus a tax collector, but he was the chief tax collector.  That means he had to have been cunning and ruthless at some point in his career.  It had earned him the promotion and it had made him a wealthy man.  And so, Zacchaeus had become lost in the secular world and had abandoned his Jewish roots.   

But Zacchaeus was one of the lucky folks who got lost.  Because he came back; yes, Zacchaeus had a conversion in heart, maybe because of what he had heard about Jesus.    The Gospel today is full of all kinds of symbolism about Zacchaeus and his conversion.  Zacchaeus runs ahead- something considered below the dignity of a cultured citizen.  Because of his small stature, he climbs a tree, also below considered one’s dignity.  Now one Bible Commentator says that Palestinian Sycamores have long smooth trunks that are hard to climb, and would be much more difficult to climb if you were short.  So, Zacchaeus motivation for climbing the tree was not just idle curiosity.  He had abandoned proper behavior for a person of his social status; and had to work hard to get up that tree.  Zacchaeus was definitely a man who had a change of heart and was seeking to change his life.  And as the dialogue with Jesus shows, he was prepared to put his conversion of heart into practice by following the Mosaic law of 4-fold restitution for anyone he had cheated, and by promising to tithe and give half of his wealth to the poor.   

And so, what does Jesus say to Zacchaeus?  Jesus says: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost”.  Symbolically, Zacchaeus can be seen as the lost members of the faithful who have committed themselves to repent, and who are joyfully awaiting the coming of the Lord.  And when the Lord comes to him, He calls Zacchaeus to come down from the tree to serve him.   

Now in the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul prays that God will make the Thessalonians worthy of his calling to them.  He also prays that they would “powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith”. This applies to us today as well.  Today, we are being called, and we are expected to bring to fulfillment every good purpose and effort of faith.  We are being called to come down out of our trees, and in a spirit of conversion, serve the Lord and his purpose as we live our lives going forward.   

But Paul also says something else to the Thessalonians.  He says “not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.   Let no one deceive you in any way.”   

This is a day and age in which there are many false prophets; there are many persons trying to deceive us.  Let me give one example.  There are popular Preacher’s out there who predict the end of the World.  Some of them interpret the Book of Revelation by drawing parallels between current events and Revelation.  But nobody, according to Jesus, knows the time or the hour.  Yes, we have prophets and sages and government people heralding the end times in their own way.  But don’t listen to them.     

Our challenge is to be prepared for the day of the Lord at all times; but not to be anticipating it or hurrying it.  God loves us just the way we are, young or old; feeble or agile; intelligent or dumb; pretty or plain; as long as we love Him, believe in Him, and are doing his will because the Son of Man has come to save all of us.  All of us, that is, except those who choose to stay lost and abandon Him. 

How Should We Give to God?

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 35: 12-14, 16-18; 2 Tim 4: 6-8, 16-18; Luke 18: 9-14

Dc. Larry Brockman

One of the most difficult things for all of us is to discern just how, what, and how much we give to God.  I’m not just talking about money, either.  Rather, I’m talking about time, talent, and treasure.  Today, our scriptures give us three different views on giving to God.   

Sirach says to: “Give to the most high as he has given to you- generously, according to your means.”  So, each of us is admonished to give generously of our treasure.  Then he says: “But offer no bribes.”  Indeed, bargaining with God is not a healthy way to ask God for help.  Then Sirach implies that the cry of the downtrodden will be heard by God.  Clearly, the emphasis in Sirach is on generosity and sincerity of heart.  Give to the Lord generously and your needs, not your wants, will be provided for.   

Then, there is the story of Paul.  Paul has given himself generously to the Lord, but rather than treasure, Paul has given his time and talent.  He gave up everything to become an Apostle to the Gentiles.  Before his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee in good standing, and from a wealthy family.  After his conversion, Paul was shunned by his fellow Pharisees, and lived from day to day as a tentmaker.  Paul travelled tirelessly throughout the Eastern part of the Roman Empire to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.  He was imprisoned several times, mistreated by some, and living from day to day throughout his ministry. 

Yet Paul is joyful, even offering forgiveness to his persecutors.  Because Paul recognizes that “the time of my departure is at hand”.  Paul is hopeful that the crown of righteousness awaits him.  Notice, that he does not declare himself as righteous.  Rather, he recognizes that the crown awaits him following his judgment; and Paul is confident that his devotion and dedication to the Lord will be rewarded.   

That brings us to the Gospel- one of the most well known passages in the Gospel.  First, we are told that the parable is addressed to those who consider themselves righteous.  Well, you know what, that’s all of us here today, isn’t it?  After all, we are here, whereas an awful lot of folks haven’t bothered to get up and come to worship God.   And we all contribute something to the collection.  We are doing our part.  Those others have more important things to do- golf or outings or many other things; and they contribute nothing to the church. 

But you see, our salvation is not “relative”.  We cannot judge our righteousness based on the righteousness or lack of it in others.  Our status with God is standalone- it is based on our relationship with God, and our relationship alone.   

Jesus wants us to not only give of our time, talent, and treasure; but to do it from our hearts; to do it out of humility and love.  And as this Gospel tells us, the tax collector gave out of humility and love.  It isn’t how much we give, but whether we give out of love, with the right intention.   

Recently, my wife had a major operation.  She was in the hospital for almost a week, and so, she had several different nurses caring for her.  I visited her there daily.  It is fair to say that all of these nurses were qualified; and all of them gave her care according to their training.  But, there were significant differences in the quality of care as viewed by their patient.   Some of them did everything by the book; they were clinically outstanding in their practice.  But they projected neither compassion nor caring as they ministered to their patient.  These acted out of duty.   

Others were equally proficient from a clinical perspective.  But they had a way of making their patient feel accepted, valued, and cared for.  These acted out of compassion and love.  I am sure that anyone who has spent multiple days in a hospital can relate to the difference.   

Well, so it is with our need to give to the Lord.  We need to give to the Lord, not out of duty; but out of love.   

God is the giver of all things.  There is nothing that we possess- no talent, no time, and no treasure- that he has not given to us.  Even those things we think we have acquired by our own skill are given to us by God, because without God, we can do nothing.  Every breath that we take, we owe to God, and that is reason enough to love God back and want to give something back to him. 

As to how much we give to him, the more the better.  For as Sirach says, God will give back to us seven-fold.  And God is rich in Mercy to those who love Him.