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Ordinary Time 31 (C)
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Readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

1. Wisdom 11, 22 to 12, 2

  • I know what Gospel is coming today, and so I don’t intend to overshadow it now.  What I will do is prepare the way by finding the phrases that point ahead to it.
  • Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance.  Recall any image from the Hubble telescope, with its vast spaces where stars and planets are even smaller than grains of sand.  Now the whole universe, which they say is expanding!  Not that God is a hulking figure, or even an all-knowing creator.  Let me continue with negatives: not in cosmic displays, not in complex algorithms, not in nuclear equations or fusion reactions.  No.  After I render “the whole universe” with due bombast I resort to a near whisper for “a grain, a drop of dew.” 
  • You have mercy on all.  Now I address God in prayer, in a spirit of wonder.  God is everywhere; not like a micromanager flitting from one item to another, but like a lover abiding in each.  Do all things: On first hearing I imagine physical might applied from without, but then I feel something much, much smaller enervating from within.  Let me build this awareness as I rehearse it over and over.
  • Then the tone changes.  That they may repent.  That is why God must not be oversized, but rather must whisper to our conscience. 
  • Most of this passage addresses motivation.  Why would God care?  You loathe nothing that you have made, they are yours.  Not at all a cold, alien universe, and so if it comes from God it is not far from us.  “They are ours, too.”
  • That is why God is patient with us.  You rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them.  Let me take some of that patience and build right to its happy conclusion: that they may believe.  Am I happy about this?  Do I show it?
  • Climax: Your imperishable spirit is in all things!  Let me stretch that “all” to encompass them.
  • Message for our assembly: Let us also find God in the silences of our nights and days.
  • I will challenge myself: To find a tone of joy in my voice, as I attempt to move today’s assembly with ancient wisdom.

2. II Thessalonians 1, 11 to 2, 2

  • I begin with the apostle’s prayer for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling.  It needs to be more than overheard.  Could we also be worthy?
  • Powerfully bring to fulfillment every effort of faith.  Again, not loudly but with burning determination.  God is working in many places.
  • The name of our Lord Jesus be glorified in you, and you in him, which includes all his listeners and mine.  Draw them in by my insisting voice and eyes.
  • We ask you.  The second half of the passage can sound dated to many in my congregation – not, of course to believers in the “rapture” – but I should not leave it as a history lesson.  The apostle is asking for responsibility in the way we live our faith.  Let the moral dimension reach everyone, including those who broadcast and try to hasten the final days with their political positions.
  • The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him.  This is not in doubt.  We profess both elements; we are all in this.  Jesus is the firstborn, the first fruits.  I don’t want a full pause, as if these were two doctrines.
  • Not to be shaken or to be alarmed.  Here is the moral admonition.  Use my best calming voice.
  • To the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.  The language is strange at first hearing.  It sounds to me like: “So such and such a letter you have, and with my name on it, seems to say that the Lord is coming any moment.”  If I say it calmly I will make the apostle’s point, while disowning the alarming message.
  • Climax: The name of the Lord be glorified in you, and you in him.
  • The message for our assembly: Let us treat our faith as something we all share, and encourage each other.
  • I will challenge myself: To breathe life into an ancient prayer that remains valid.

Gospel. Luke 19, 1-10

  • Luke is finishing his narration of Jesus’ journey.  He is close now, at Jericho and ready to make the climb to Jerusalem.  In fact, he intended to pass through the town, perhaps without stopping?
  • Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man.  Twice damned in our sight, twice a sinner.  What do either of these have to do with “the meek” whom God favors?  It’s all right for me to sound a bit put off.  In my youth I remember when Khrushchev’s son-in-law went to visit John XXIII.  Of course there are numerous parallels today.
  • He could not see him because of the crowd, because he was short of stature.  We have all had our view of the parade blocked at some time in our lives, so I don’t have to embellish the verse.  Better to speak simply, allowing everyone to see him running ahead and climbing a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. 
  • When he reached the place, Jesus looked up.  I can imagine the large dry sycamore leaves rustling and a small rotund man about to lose his grip and fall on top of Jesus.  I can also imagine the wagging tongues around him.
  • And his reaction?  Come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.  How presumptuous of him to invite himself anywhere!  There must be more than this going on behind the scenes, but Jesus speaks publicly about it.  I will repeat his call most emphatically, angling it slightly upward.
  • Half of my possessions I shall give to the poor.  He speaks in utmost gratitude, and at the same time like the businessman he is.  Can I find that voice?
  • Climax: Today salvation has come to this house.  Jesus is also overjoyed.
  • Message for our assembly: Substitute some other word for “salvation” and see where our loyalties lie.  Let me suggest: security, good fortune, peace.
  • I will challenge myself: To remind the assembly that the Zacchaeus in our communities may be just as difficult to welcome into our midst.

From Word to Eucharist: Our celebration is not about goodness or righteousness but about repentance.  We always begin with a prayer for forgiveness, leading through the Lord’s Prayer, and the procession itself.  Whether the Spirit moves us to climb trees or fall to our knees, we come closer to the Lord in the act.

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