The theme for this week is Justification… but what exactly does that mean? According to Merriam-Webster, "justification" is “the act, process, or state of being justified by God”. Looking more closely at the root word, “justify”, means “to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.” So it begs the question… what is right or reasonable by God? How do we justify ourselves before the Lord? Let’s see what our readings have to say…
The Word for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Our first reading this week comes from the Book of Wisdom. Similar in style and teaching to the Book of Sirach (which you may recall dates to about 150 BCE), the Book of Wisdom is newer (dating to about 50 BCE), and comes from the Jewish community in Alexandria instead of Jerusalem. What makes Wisdom stand apart from Sirach, however, is its perspective from a people who are being oppressed. By the time of the writing of the Wisdom, the geo/political winds had changed, setting up the conflicts that eventually blossom in the New Testament with the rise of Roman authority and the eventual fall of Jerusalem. The Jewish people in Alexandria are suffering, a feeling to which early Christians can easily relate. From this standing as a people feeling persecuted, it’s easy to understand their need to reach out to God, and the Book of Wisdom delivers. Our passage shows the depth of God’s love for his people and his creation. By this passage, it would not be unreasonable to say that our mere existence, as God’s creation, is enough to be justified. That does not mean we are without fault, but because we are God’s own, he is patient with us, giving us time to turn away from sin and believe in Him.
Our second reading gives us an excerpt from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Though not intentionally related to our theme, this opening passage has Paul reminding us that we should not be “shaken or alarmed” with regard to the second coming of Christ. The community in Thessalonica is concerned about news they have heard and read from those not associated with Paul or the other Apostles. This is not unlike the fear stoked by many others today with their predictions of the end times and the rapture. As Catholics, we embrace the coming of Jesus. We don’t fear it. This is the message that Paul wants to convey to the Thessalonians… that through our faith, we are justified. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are justified. Those doing their best to live as Jesus taught have nothing to fear, because as the Book of Wisdom has taught us, God’s “imperishable spirit is in all things, ”and can “loath nothing" that He has made.”
This same spirit is evident in our Gospel. In another story unique to Luke’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates this justification… this love… to someone whom others would marginalize. Many of Jesus’ detractors criticized the company he kept, spending time with what they considered the dregs of society (tax collections, prostitutes, the sick) who are unworthy of his attention. Jesus, however, recognized that these people too are justified in the Lord, and if anything are in more need of this “good news” than others. The story of Zaccheaus is just such a story. The gospel tells us that Zaccheaus was the Chief Tax Collector and a wealthy man. If that were not enough to alienate him from the rest of the people, we are also told that he was “short of stature.” Yet something within him made him eager to see Jesus as he was traveling through town. So eager he was that he climbed a tree just to get a look. Jesus, in seeing this, stops, recognizes him, and invites himself to stay with him. The crowd grumbled about this, seeing Zaccheaus as unworthy of this honor, yet Jesus sees an opportunity to reclaim one more lost sheep… an opportunity that leads to his salvation.
So our lesson is clear… no one is unworthy to hear the Good News. No one is to be marginalized, for we are all created by God, infused with the Spirit of God, and all worthy of redemption. All they need do is ask.