In Luke's Gospel we read the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus, as chief tax collector, was considered a very bad man in first century Israel, but Christ greets him with love. It is the love of God that causes everything to be, and comes before everything we do. God does not love us because we do good; we do good because God loves us.
The entire point of religion is to make us humble before God and to open us to the path of love. Everything else is more or less a footnote. Liturgy, prayer, the precepts of the Church, the commandments, sacraments, sacramental—all of it—are finally meant to conform us to the way of love. When they instead turn us away from that path by devolving into a source of pride and pomposity, they have been undermined. Jesus' famous parable about the prayers of the pharisee and the tax collector from this Sunday's readings illustrates precisely this danger of coopting religion for the purposes of our ego.
Our first reading from the book of Exodus is illuminating at so many levels. On the surface, this is a report of an ancient war, more of a tribal dispute really, between two minor peoples. But read with a sensitivity to the multivalence of the Biblical text, this report clues us in to the spiritual warfare that always obtains in a fallen world. We should expect a battle when we walk the path of Christ.
Something I’ve found over the years is that people use the word “Gospel” to mean all sorts of different things. People say, “I’m committed to the Gospel.” “I want preach the Gospel.” “I want to live according to the Gospel.” But what precisely do people mean when they say these things? The word literally means “good news.” But what good news? We have a wonderful text for our first reading today from Paul’s second letter to his disciple and friend Timothy. One of the many things that makes it wonderful is that it contains a very pithy summation of what St. Paul meant by the word “Gospel.” When we unpack this summation, we hold the key to transforming the world.
This Sunday's readings compel us to meditate on the meaning of faith. Paul Tillich, the 20th century theologian, said, "Faith is the most misunderstood word in the religious vocabulary". Faith is an attitude of trust in the presence of God, which is simple enough to say, yet to live by faith means to surrender your entire life over to God, abandoning your own desires and becoming a servant under the realization that everything you have (including your very existence) is a grace, a gift. As we see in the lives of the saints, amazing things happen when we make this transformation; indeed, that which begins with a mustard seed of faith can grow, by the grace of God, to bless the whole world.
Friends, I have spent the past 12 days in Rome for “baby Bishop school”, and just returned today. As such, I asked my Word on Fire team to reach into our archives for this week’s sermon. I’ll be working on new sermons, articles, and video commentaries in the days and weeks ahead. But in the meantime, I hope that this archived sermon will help you to understand and personally appropriate the Scriptures for this Sunday, which remind us that we cannot remain indifferent to the poor, whom the Lord has determined to be a privileged route of access to his life and presence.
Most of us spur into action when we believe that our financial state is in dire straits. Why don't we act in the same way in regards to our spiritual state? Today people need the same spiritual concern that people had in the past. They need to want to establish a relationship with God, that which is of paramount importance. So wake up, and place God at the center of your life!
Our Gospel for today gives us three classic parables, each one exploring the notion which is at the very heart of the spiritual life, namely, that God is the one who searches for us. Why would God fret over one little soul? Why would He bother? Well, it’s His nature. It’s what He does. More to it, as we see in the coin, the sheep and the son, recovering a lost soul is what He rejoices in doing.
This week's Gospel contains one of the greatest challenges Jesus ever offered to his disciples: "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Here Christ is emphasizing the great spiritual principle of detachment. In order to live healthy spiritual lives we must love Christ most of all, with everything else finding its meaning in relation to God.
This week's readings focus on the importance of humility. Humility is the foundation for the whole of spirituality. In order to truly pursue truth and goodness, it is necessary to let go of the ego and realize that everything we have and are is a gift from God.