31 Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 3, 2019
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom, a collection of little sayings intended to enlighten our minds, enflame our hearts, and inspire us to change our lives so that we live more peacefully in this world as we make our way home to the next.
As this liturgical year is nearing its end, it’s interesting to consider that the passage we hear directs our attention beyond ourselves…and even beyond this world. We are encouraged to imagine the whole universe. That is easy to do while looking up into a clear, night sky.
When folks gaze…that’s a good word to use…when we stargaze, pondering all that is out there so far above and beyond us, it stirs strong feelings and emotions within us.
In our second reading, St. Paul uses the expression “shaken out of our minds.”
That’s a good expression to use to describe the rush we get when we take just a brief moment to stand quietly, looking out into the vastness of the whole universe. When we allow ourselves that opportunity, we can actually shake off all cares and worries and concerns and frustrations that weigh heavily on our minds, if only for that moment.
Even a few seconds of awareness (another good word)…even a few seconds of awareness of and appreciation for the whole universe enlightens our minds and inspires us to think the deepest of thoughts; thoughts about how this all came to be, how insignificant we are in the scheme of things…but at the same time, how totally valued we are by the Creator, Who entrusted this universe to our care. Just a few seconds of stargazing causes us to think big thoughts and ask big questions.
What power, what force could have brought this “wonder” we call the universe into being…and then keep it all in existence? A clear night sky…for those who are wise enough to be aware of it…has the power to enflame the heart. We actually feel something in our chest when we stargaze. I’m not sure of the right word…or expression…to give that feeling.
Maybe wonder and awe? Possibly desire…or longing? Could it be restlessness? Or maybe when we are wise enough to stargaze at the whole universe, aware that this all came about through the loving gesture of our all-powerful Creator…what we feel is love. And when we are in touch with that powerful force we call love…we want to change our lives so that we can live more peacefully in this world as we make our way home to the next.
All of this happened to a funny little man in broad daylight, and in the middle of a large crowd of people, many of whom disliked and disrespected him because of what he did for a living. He was a tax collector. Zacchaeus was the man’s name. And that name, Zacchaeus, usually was spoken with ridicule and scorn by his neighbors, passed from the lips of the Son of God and continues to be spoken through the Gospel after all these centuries. When Jesus looked up into that sycamore tree and called out “Zacchaeus!” You can almost see the smile on the Lord’s face…and hear the amusement and the love in Jesus’s voice.
Zacchaeus! Come down quickly, for today, I must stay at your house!
So just exactly what was there about this man that attracted Jesus’s attention and earned Zacchaeus the honor of hosting the Son of God? Well, according to the story…this sinner…this tax collector (you have to say that with disgust in your voice) allowed himself a brief moment to gaze…that’s a good word to use…
Zacchaeus took the opportunity to stargaze…not into the night sky…but in the brilliant light of day. He allowed himself to catch the briefest glimpse…not of the universe…but of the Creator’s eternal word, who pre-existed the universe. Somehow, this person, thought to be a sinner, was aware…that’s a good word to use…
Zacchaeus was somehow aware of the fact that the person whom he was gazing at was not just a flesh and blood human being, but also God. Somehow, Zacchaeus’s mind was enlighten to the truth that he was gazing upon the Second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity, who played a part in calling the universe into existence….and somehow, some way, is involved in holding the universe in existence.
And he was shaken out of his mind!
His mind began to think deep thoughts…and his heart was inflamed. And he felt something powerful….in his chest. Maybe it was wonder and awe, or desire…longing…
Just this glimpse of Jesus made him feel restless and wanting more. What caused him to climb the tree to get a better view? All of that…and more. He was attracted to Jesus by the most powerful force in the whole of the universe…love! And love stirred in him a desire to be an even better person.
A few minutes gazing into a star-filled night sky can do wonders for our minds. But if, like this little tax collector from centuries past, we take the opportunity to gaze with full awareness of who we are privileged to catch a glimpse of…well, that does wonders for our souls.
We have that opportunity to look beyond the universe and into the Kingdom each and every time we gather for Eucharist. We don’t even have to climb a tree. All we need do is gaze at the Table of the Word from which the Lord Jesus is speaking directly to us…calling our names, inviting us to approach the Communion Table so that we might host His divine presence within us. The Eucharist places us in direct contact with God’s infinite mercy, love, and forgiveness. When we celebrate with the awareness of what we are about, we leave with our minds enlightened to the truth that God loves even the most despicable sinner…even tax collectors.
When we come together to break the bread and share the cup, our hearts are enflamed by the love and the peace that comes from hosting the Living Word within us. And when we leave, it is with the sincere conviction that we can and will change our lives so that we can and will live in Christ’s peace as we make our way out of this world…out of this universe…home to the Kingdom of God.
Does all of this leave you shaken out of your minds?