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31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Wisdom 11:22-12:2
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13b-14
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The two Testaments reveal God's divine plan for humanity, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Lord who calls us is Gracious and Merciful
Yahweh revealed His divine attributes to Moses, telling him that He is merciful and gracious... slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity... (Ex 34:66-7). The First Reading reminds us that God is good and that everything He created is good. He created us to be good, and the stain of sin upon our souls does not lessen His love for us. God is, therefore, gracious and merciful in giving us time to turn away from sin. He continually calls us to repentance and to experience His divine mercy and forgiveness.

The Psalm Reading is attributed to King David. The psalmist declares that Yahweh will be praised by all His works and by all His faithful people; everyone will come to acknowledge the glory of God's kingdom and God's mighty deeds. He acknowledges God's grace and mercy, and he praises God for His faithfulness and His compassion for those who suffer. He declares God's faithfulness in His words and in His works, as God in His mercy, lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The universal range of God's kingdom is seen in the way He protects the weak and the oppressed. As St. John of the Cross writes, quoting from Psalm 145:16, "he opens his hand, as David says, and fills all his creatures with his blessings" (Spiritual Canticle, 6).

In the Second Reading, St. Paul alludes to God's mercy in the time He has allowed mankind to come to salvation between Christ's first and second visitation. We have an obligation to use that time to spread the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. God, in His mercy, has given us time before His Final Judgment because He is not willing that any should perish but that all might have the opportunity to come to salvation, like the sinful tax collector Jesus called in the Gospel story.

Last week's Gospel reading compared the prayer of a proud Pharisee with the humility and contrition of a tax collector who humbly acknowledged his sins. This week we see the response of a tax collector to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The previous story in the Gospel of Luke concerned Jesus healing a blind man who called out to Him as He entered the city of Jericho (Lk 18:35-43). In this encounter with Christ in the city of Jericho, there is a connection between what happened to the blind man who so urgently called out to Jesus as He passed by and the little tax collector who desperately wanted to see Jesus before He passed by. Both stories are about the urgency of reaching out to Jesus before He "passes by." The stories are a warning for us not to neglect reaching out to Jesus while there is still time for us to be open to God's grace and mercy and to receive the gift of salvation. In our journey to salvation, we need to continue to respond quickly and decisively to Jesus like the earnest blind beggar and the repentant little tax collector, calling out to the gracious and merciful Christ while there is still time and before life passes us by.

The First Reading Wisdom 11:22-12:2 ~ Almighty and Merciful Lord of the Imperishable Spirit
11:22 Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.  23 But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.  24 For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.  25 And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?  26 But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls.  2:1 For your imperishable spirit is in all things!  2 Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!

The lesson the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom gives about God's mercy and faithful love toward all created things is not new (see Hos 6:4-6; Jon 3:1-4:11).  He writes forcefully of the universal range of God's mercy towards sinful man and the love of God that is continually at work in creation (see verses 23-26).  The inspired writer speaks of God's loving providence towards all created beings which is also expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves.  He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and bring them to their final end.  Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence" (CCC 301).  God waits for the sinner to repent and He never loses His patience (12:1-2).  When God rebukes sinful human beings, He does so with a redemptive intention in the hope that contrition will lead to repentance which will lead to a return to the acceptance of God's love and mercy.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "... the love of God creates and fills all things with goodness" (Summa Theologiae, 1.20.2).

Responsorial Psalm 145:1-2, 8-11, 13b-14 ~ Praise the Great and Merciful Lord
The response is: "I will praise your name forever my king and my God."
1 I will extol you, O my God and King, and I will bless your name forever and ever.  2 Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. 
8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.  9 The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
10 Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you.  11 Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might. 
13b The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.  14 The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

This is another of the alphabetical psalms.  It is one of a group of palms of David that both begins and ends with praise (verses 1 and 21).  The psalmist begins with an enthusiastic desire to praise the Lord daily (verses 1-2).  St. John Chrysostom wrote: "Devotion to praise is a mark of the truly filial heart.  He who praises the Lord every day will praise him for the eternal Day" (Expositio in Psalmos, 144.2).  In verses 8-9 the psalmist focuses on the graciousness and mercy of God, quoting in verse 8 from Exodus 34:6 in God's words to Moses: Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out, "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity ..."

In verses 10-11, the psalmist declares that Yahweh will be praised by all His works and by all His faithful people; everyone will come to acknowledge the glory of God's kingdom and God's mighty deeds.  The last verses in our reading again declare God's faithfulness in His words and in His works and that God in His mercy lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.  The universal range of God's kingdom is seen in the way He protects the weak and the oppressed.  As St. John of the Cross writes, quoting from Psalm 145:16, "he opens his hand, as David says, and fills all his creatures with his blessings" (Spiritual Canticle, 6).

The Second Reading 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 ~ Awaiting The Day of the Lord's Return
11 We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.  2:1 We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, 2 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.

St. Paul is deeply concerned.  He fears that the persecution that the church at Thessalonica is facing will cause some of them to stumble and fall away from the Lord (1:4-5).  Even more problematic is the news Paul has received that someone is deceiving the community by writing false letters in his name (2 Thes 2:2)!  The topic of the false teaching is the Parousia, the Second Advent of Christ.  Some members of the church in Thessalonica had inferred that the coming of Christ was so imminent that there was no longer any need to work or care for their families.  Paul begins by speaking about the Second Advent of Christ (1:6-10) and then continues that he and his missionary team pray continually that God will make them worthy of the call of Jesus Christ and that they will be glorified in Him when He comes. 

Then in 2:1-2, Paul begins to refute the false messages they have received: We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, 2 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.
He warns them that before Christ's return that there are signs that had to be fulfilled (2 Thes 2:3b-12).  His Second Coming will be preceded by a general apostasy and the appearance of "the man of sin" (2 Thes 2:3).   In the meantime, they need to "not be shaken" or "alarmed" by any letter or spirit or oral statement telling them otherwise (2:2).  God in His mercy is preparing them for Christ's return in their sufferings and in the teaching of His Apostles and disciples.  This is the only teaching they must follow and none other.

St. Paul's warning to the Christians at Thessalonica is also a warning for us as well.  Paul tells them that they must Stand firm then, brothers, and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thes 2:15;   also see 2 Thes 3:6 and 1 Cor 11:2).  We have the Scriptures, and the Universal [catholic] Church of Jesus Christ has been given the power and authority to interpret and teach those Scriptures and to pass on the oral Tradition of teaching received from Jesus (Jn 20:22-23; 21:15-17; 2 Pt 1:20-21).  If we do not know those teachings and understand them, how can we be ready to receive Christ's mercy instead of His judgment when He returns?

The Gospel of Luke 19:1-10 ~ The story of Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.  2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.  4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.  5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."  6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy.  7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."  8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."  9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."  

Last week's Gospel reading compared the prayer of a proud Pharisee with the humility and contrition of a tax collector who acknowledged his sins.  This week we see the response of a tax collector to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The previous story in the Gospel of Luke concerned Jesus healing a blind man who called out to Him as He entered the city of Jericho (Lk 18:35-43).   In this encounter with Christ, there is a connection between what happened to the blind man who so urgently called out to Jesus as He was passing by and the little tax collector who desperately wanted to see Jesus before He passed by.  Both stories are about the urgency of reaching out to Jesus before He passes by.  The stories are a warning to us not to neglect reaching out to Jesus while there is still time for us to be open to God's grace and mercy and to receive the gift of salvation.  In our journey to salvation, we need to continue to respond quickly and decisively to Jesus like the earnest blind beggar and the repentant little tax collector.

Tax collectors were despised because of the way they profited off their commission that they added to the people's taxes.  Jesus, in His mercy, calls out to the little tax collector.  Zacchaeus responds to Jesus.  Repenting his dishonesty, Zacchaeus promises Jesus that he will make restitution as a sign of his conversion.  A fourfold restitution was imposed by the Law of Moses for theft of domestic livestock only (Ex 21:37), but Roman law demanded a fourfold restitution in all cases of theft.  Zacchaeus appears to be following Roman law in the restitution he promises for those he has defrauded, but he goes beyond what is required in promising to give half his wealth to the poor. 

Luke 19:9-10  And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
Zacchaeus' repentance and submission to Christ identify him as a true descendant of Abraham (Gal 3:29) and one of the "lost sheep" the Messiah, who is God Himself, was prophesied to come to save (Ez chapter 34:11-12).  May we all respond to Christ in the same way as Zacchaeus, the tax collector.  He may have been small in stature, but his genuine contrition for his sins and his gratitude for Christ's mercy and forgiveness enlarged his heart as was demonstrated in the mercy he was willing to extend to others.  The right response to Jesus removes the selfishness that blurs our vision of Christ and increases our faith.  Zacchaeus' response to Christ gave him the honor of welcoming Jesus to his table and the promise of a place at Christ's banquet in the eternal kingdom.

Catechism References:
Wisdom 11:22-12:2 (CCC 269, 301, 373)
Psalm 145:9 (CCC 295, 342)
2 Thessalonians 1:11 (CCC 2636)
Luke 19:1-10 (CCC 2712); 19:8 (CCC 549, 2412)

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013, revised 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.