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October 30 2016 (C) Thirty-Firs t SUNDAY of the Year

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The love and mercy of God. The Last Things

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Wisdom 11:22-12:2). You are merciful to all because you love all that exists. There is reference in many places of the Old Testament to the mercy of God and to his love for the human race and for all that he has created, but none of them is near being so beautiful as what is said in this reading: “You are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook people’s sins so that they can repent. Yes, you love all that exists, and hold nothing of what you have made in abhorrence, for had you hated anything, you would not have formed it. And how, had you not willed it, could a thing persist, how be conserved if not called forth by you?” These sentiments are at the very core of what the author has to say in this passage. This is not to say that God does not punish nations for their sins. The reading comes between two passages in which the author says the very opposite. Immediately before this reading he recalls that God had punished the Egyptians by the plagues and immediately after it he describes the various sins that the nations of Canaan were supposed to have committed over the ages and for which God will punish them, although he was patient with them and had given them time to repent. At the outset of this reading the author contrasts God Almighty and the whole world, which in his presence is like a grain of dust or a drop of morning dew. But towards his frail creatures this Almighty God shows compassion and love. It is he who created them, and is responsible for their existence, a thought which the author expresses with a variety of images. It is God who called them into existence. They belong to God, God who is the lover of all the living. God’s imperishable spirit is in all that live; it is this spirit that gives them life. God is the lover of all the living. His aim in creation was to establish friendship with humankind. Sin breaks this friendship, but God is gentle and loving, and little by little corrects the sinner, reminds them of their errors in an effort to have them return to him and trust in him. This beautiful reading is aptly chosen to go with today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus declares that he, the Son of Msn, has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 144[145]). I will bless your name for ever, O God my King.

Second Reading (2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2). The name of Christ will be glorified in you and you in him. A central theme in this letter is the Second Coming of Christ “and how we shall all be gathered round him” (2:1). In a sense it thus concerns the Last Things, and it may be for this reason that readings are chosen from it for the three last Sundays of the liturgical years, before the Feast of Christ the KIng. The letter itself has an eschatological theme, but the Sunday readings only give a section of one of these (today’s reading). The other such readings would probably be too difficult to understand. It is quite clear when Paul wrote the First Letter to the Thessalonians, and the situation that gave rise to it. It is the oldest Christian writing we possess, written in the year 51 A.D. That letter shows Paul’s love for the Church at Thessalonica and its aim was to give them encouragement. This letter does mention the (Second) coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord, and Paul reminds his readers that they know full well that this Day will come like thief in the night, thus suddenly. It is not so easy to determine the time or the occasion of this Second Letter to the Thessalonians. It is clear from the letter that that Church was experiencing a crisis on the issue of this Coming at that time, some maintaining that the Day of the Lord had already come. The letter (2:1-12) confronts this problem head on, and openly states that there is no foundation for rumours current concerning the Second Coming of Christ or of the Day of the Lord. It says that that Day will not come suddenly, but that its coming will be preceded by signs. When biblical scholars consider the relevant evidence, some are of the view that Paul wrote the Second Letter soon after the first. Other scholars maintain that the Second Letter was not written that early, and possibly is not directly from Paul himself, but from someone else under his influence and inspiration, perhaps even from about the year 68 when both Jerusalem and the Temple were in danger of being destroyed by the Roman armies.

            With regard to today’s reading: Paul tells the Church that he is continually praying for them that their faith may be a living one and that God may fulfil all their desire for goodness, because in this way the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified in them, and they in him, all this by the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken of as one. With this glorification of the name of Jesus and of believers, taken together, Paul probably has glorification at the Parousia, Christ’s coming, in mind. This takes Paul to what has been unsettling the Thessalonian church concerning the coming of Christ and the rumours and letters that have been falsely attributed to Paul himself concerning this Coming, as if the Day of the Lord had already come. Paul will go into this question in some greater detail in the continuation of this reading in the letter itself.

The Gospel (Luke 19:1-10). The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost. Jesus earlier told a parable on the good shepherd’s search for the sheep that had been lost. This present reading is a narrative about a similar quest, with the same theme of seeking out and saving what was lost. Zacchaeus is presented as a senior tax collector and a wealthy man. We are in the city of Jericho where there would have been many trees. One of these was a sycamore tree of the Palestinian type, a fig or mulberry tree. These would be tall tress, with high branches but with the lower ones close enough to the ground to permit a person climb up on it. Jesus had spoken of how difficult it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Zacchaeus would have been an exception. Jesus here takes the initiative and seeks out Zacchaeus on the tree branch, inviting himself to enjoy the tax collector’s hospitality. Zacchaeus gladly accepts. As a tax collector Zacchaeus would in popular estimation have been regarded as a sinner, and association with him would be regarded as improper by Jews. Zacchaeus admits wrongdoing and expresses repentance, ready to give half his wealth to the poor and repay any wrongdoing in his tax collecting fourfold, thus going beyond what the Bible in general demanded and in keeping with Roman law for patent theft. The reaction of the bystanders to Jesus going to enjoy a tax collector’s hospitality was in keeping with what had often earlier occurred in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ reply sums up the meaning of the entire event: Zacchaeus may have been a sinner, but he was a son of Abraham, and Jesus, the Son of Man, had come to seek out and save what was lost.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The love and mercy of God. The Last Things

Today’s readings present ample opportunity for reflection and for dialogue within the Church of our own day, and with the world beyond it.

Reflection. The love and mercy of God. Peter’s successor was not very long in office when as Pope Francis he reminded the Church that we should reflect and speak much more about the love and them mercy of God than on certain specified current moral hotly debated topics. Today’s first reading and gospel make the very same point. They invite us to reflect on the matter. God is love and he loves all he has created. He is full of mercy for the human race and for each individual. Jesus still seeks out all that is lost, through his own presence, through the Holy Spirit, and through his faithful followers. It is only necessary to read and reread today’s readings to be convinced of this. How bear witness to these truths in our own day is a matter that can exercise our minds and consciences.

Dialogue with members of the Church and with those outside. The Last Things – death, judgment, hell and heaven. The second reading today reminds us that we are drawing near the end of the church’s liturgical year. This is an apt time for clergy and laity to reflect on the Last Things. In Catholic Tradition the last things are Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. Not too many in our own day are anxious to reflect on these truths, especially on death, which is the only certain one of these for believer and unbeliever alike. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1006-1065) treats of them as part of its consideration of the Apostles’ Creed.

Death. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (paragraph 18) has a very deep and touching reflection on “the mystery of Death”, well worth reading and reflecting on. “It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt”.