The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – 30 October 2022
Lectionary Readings: Wis. 11:22-12:2; Psalm 145; 2 Thess. 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10
Theme: You spare all things, LORD, lover of life
Our reading from the Book of Wisdom today comes from its third section, which is a midrash or scriptural meditation on the story of the Exodus to show God’s care of God’s own people and the stupidity of idolatry, especially that of the Egyptians. We also hear of God’s love for all humanity, giving us time for repentance, precisely because God is all-powerful: “… you are merciful to all; because you can do all things…You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life”.
Psalm 145 takes up the same theme, although it’s a pity that verse 3 is omitted: “The Lord is great, highly to be praised, God’s greatness cannot be measured” which would have echoed Wisdom’s stress on God’s omnipotence. What we do have, though, are the wonderful lines recalling Exodus 34:5: “The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love.” – a compassion which will be seen in our gospel story of Zacchaeus’ return to God and the demands of God’s Torah.
As we approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year, we begin to have readings from the Letters to the Thessalonians because of their key theme of the second coming of Christ. Today we read from the Second Letter, which scholars now consider was written much later than the First and by a different author, whose concern was to oppose the view that Jesus had already returned. The prayer that “God will make you worthy of God’s call” is Jewish language of election: “For you are a people consecrated to the LORD your God; it is you that the Lord our God has chosen to be God’s very own people out of all the peoples on the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). Other texts from the Hebrew Scriptures link election with demands for obedience to the Torah: “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve God’.”(Joshua 24:22). Likewise, those addressed in this Letter to the Thessalonians are reminded of their past chosenness by God in order to demand of them future good works and faith. Here is another link with our Gospel for today.
Luke uses the story of Zacchaeus as a climax of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and it’s a narrative which contains both pathos and humor. Zacchaeus’ wealth and position as a “senior tax collector” carry no clout with the crowd who bar his way from seeing Jesus. So he breaks all cultural taboos, runs ahead of everyone and scampers up a sycamore tree, probably accompanied by jeers and laughter. Though he wants to see Jesus, it is Jesus who first sees and calls him, which is typical of Luke’s description of Jesus’ summoning of his disciples throughout the gospel. Jesus sees himself as one who came to seek and save the lost. Zacchaeus’ return to God reminds us of our reading from Wisdom, where God is spoken of as “overlook(ing) men’s sins so that they can repent”. In contrast to the crowd’s description of his house as that of a sinner, Zacchaeus proclaims his fidelity to God’s law, promising to give half of his possessions to the poor, reflecting Tobit 4:10-11: “Almsgiving frees one from death, and … alms are a worthy offering in the sight of the most High.” If he has extorted money (which he probably had as tax collectors were infamous for it), he promises to restore it fourfold –as demanded in Exodus 21:37. Jesus then pronounces that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house “today” and calls him “a son of Abraham”. Though classed by others as a sinner and socially marginalized, he is really one who now resolves to follow the Jewish laws on almsgiving and restitution. Jesus praises him specifically for his fidelity to the covenant with Abraham and Jewish law – God’s Torah. As we know from recent Church teaching, this covenant which God made with God’s people has never been revoked, and the Jewish people’s faithfulness to it throughout centuries of persecution, is recognized and honored.
Psalm 145, which we read today, is the only psalm which is designated “A David [song of] praise”. The plural of the Hebrew word tehilah (praise) is tehillim, which is the Hebrew term for the Book of Psalms, whose last six psalms, beginning with Psalm 145, are all psalms of praise. As a final reflection on our readings today, let us remind ourselves of Psalm 145’s final line: “Let me speak the praise of the Lord, let all humanity bless God’s holy name for ever, for ages unending.”
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What challenges you in the readings of today?
Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Margaret Shepherd, England, Bat Kol Contributor