We sense God’s mercy…when we give mercy to others
As we come to the end of the Church year, the theme of salvation comes through our readings. And a kind of subtle fear can touch our minds: will I be really saved? Is God happy with me?
The challenge is that we tend to be more focused on getting forgiven by God and less focused active in in forgiving others. So, we develop an unconscious fear that God is not forgiving us.
The First Reading from Wisdom reveals a powerful message about God’s mercy for us. Even, though, the OT often presents God as demanding and punishing, God has always been merciful.
The story of Zacchaeus is encouraging because he was not thinking of repenting, he was just curious. But the reaction of Jesus helped him to have a conversion.
As a Jewish man he was well aware of his sins, but he was just trying to be comfortable in a world where the Romans made life difficult. How many of us are also “just trying to be comfortable” in the corrupt world around us?
The method of conversion used by Jesus is very simple:
1. Jesus stopped and noticed Zacchaeus.
2. Jesus, an important person, said he wanted to spent time with Zacchaeus.
3. Jesus did not mention the sins of Zacchaeus.
How many people around us today are kind of stuck in their sinful behaviour? How many do we condemn with our criticisms? Does it work? Do those people change because we criticise them? What if we do what Jesus did, and just enjoy their company without criticising?
When we say that we are Christians, it means we are also Disciples: trying to do what Jesus did. However, most Christians simply focus on being charitable – which is very good in itself.
However, today’s Gospel reminds us of another important “thing” that Jesus did, and invites us to do the same: take time to interrupt our busy lives to greet the stranger, to build community outside of our limited circle of family and friends.
As the story of Zacchaeus shows us, we do not have to look far: “strangers” are crossing our usual path every day. The challenge is to interrupt ourselves and say “hello.”
As we take time to greet the stranger, and they recognise the goodness we intend for them, we automatically develop an unconscious certainty of God’s love for us.
The reaction of the crowd (meaning ordinary people like you and I), who condemned Zacchaeus, is a reflection of our “knee-jerk” reaction to corrupt or sinful people.
Former President Obama, just this week, said this:
“And I think one danger I see among young people, particularly on college campuses … and this is accelerated by social media,” he explained, “is this sense sometimes of, ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that’s enough.’”
Perhaps, todays message is not so much about the importance of confessing our sins, but the more important need to reach out to others in a non-condemning way.
If we feel accepted while we are still known as sinners, then we might feel safe enough to acknowledge our sins and make a change in our lives.
We don’t usually have the courage to lower our defenses if we feel threatened. So, today, instead of focusing on our own sins committed, let us follow the invitation of Jesus to look outwards, to build community with people “around us”.
Perhaps it is a family member or a friend who has “gone bad”. Can we interrupt our busy lives and invite them for supper? And, so, begin a conversation that is not condemning, but appreciates the strengths and goodness in the other person.
I invite us to meditate on St Paul’s exhortation to us today: “…that our God may make you worthy of his calling…”
We will be worthy, not when we are perfectly pure and non-sinful but, rather, when we have called sinners to be our friends.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI