Today’s reading from the book of Wisdom presents an image of a patient God who “rebuke[s] offenders little by little” (Wisdom 12:2), an image endorsed by the psalmist, singing of how the LORD is “slow to anger and of great kindness, and com-passionate toward all his works” (Psalm 145:8, 9). The crowd with Jesus, however, grumbles when they see Jesus’s kindness and compassion extended to Zacchaeus, who was not just a tax collector, but the “chief tax collector”-- a title that surely emphasizes his standing as a sinner to be scorned. In the second reading, Saint Paul urges the Thessalonians to be “worthy” of God’s calling, so that “the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” (2 Thessalonians 1:12); such people, unlike the crowd in the Gospel, would rejoice at Zacchae-us’s determination to change his life after encountering Jesus.
Although the opening lines of today’s first reading claim that the Lord “knows no favorites” (Sirach 35:15) and is “not unduly partial toward the weak” (35:16), the remainder of the passage makes it clear that the Lord does indeed pay special attention to the weak, the oppressed, and the orphans and widows. The psalmist reiterates: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” (see Psalm 34:18). In the Gospel, Jesus claims that a tax collector is more justified in his prayer for mercy than the Pharisee, whose prayer was an account of his own righteous deeds. Jesus’ point could not have been clearer: tax collectors in the Jewish society of Jesus’ day were not just lowly; they were considered outcasts and cheaters. They collected taxes for the hated Romans and almost certainly collected enough to assure a generous income for themselves. Tax collectors were among society’s outcasts; didn’t this one just admit his own sinfulness? How could a tax collector be “justified” (that is, made right) before God, while the Pharisee was not? Why would God even listen to the prayer of a tax collector? This surely was a surprise, upsetting common assumptions about righteousness.
Exodus recounts the journey of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to the land promised to their ancestors. It was not an easy journey. In to-day’s reading, they are attacked by Amalek and his soldiers, members of one of the peoples who live in the land through which the Israelites are traveling. Moses was on the hilltop with his arms raised to invoke the LORDS’s assistance in the battle below, a powerful illustration of the LORDS’s favor upon Israel. If the soldiers were to lift up their eyes to that hill (see Psalm 121:1), they would be reassured by Moses’s presence and posture. Paul urges the Thessalonians to persist in proclaiming the gospel, and Jesus likewise commends the widow for her persistence in pursuit of the justice due her. Whether they preach or pray, the followers of Jesus need persistence through periods of difficulty.
Naaman and the leper who returned to Jesus saw God’s hand in their healing. Only through God’s intervention could they have been cured. Through this recognition of God’s presence and action in their lives, they grew in faith. For what are you grateful? Pause for a moment to reflect on all of the blessings in your life. God is the source of these many blessings...life, love, gifts, and so much more. Of all the gifts for which we must be grateful, none is as great, or as astounding, as the gift of salvation offered to us through Jesus Christ. Let this sink in, not only in your mind but in your heart. Like Naaman and the leper who returned, allow yourself to be touched by the immense love of God for you.
Faith is a gift. When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, they were going to the source of that faith with their request. God is the giver of all good gifts, including faith. When we put our faith in Christ, we believe that God is with us, even though we cannot physically see God. Or can we? If we are attentive, we see the evidence of God’s presence in the love of family and friends, care poured out in service of our neighbors, the living beauty of creation. This is not blind faith, but rather is the result of seeing with the eyes of faith. Followers of Jesus look beyond what is apparent to see what is possiblewith the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within and among us.