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31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Justification.  What does that mean… in a Catholic sense?  According to the Oxford dictionary, it is “the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God.”  In other words, to be seen as being right (or justified) by God.  How do we do right by God?  Some people have some definite opinions when it comes what they think is considered doing right by God.  Still others say that our mere faith in Christ justifies us before the Lord.  As always, let’s see what our readings have to say on this topic:


Wisdom 11:22-12:2
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom.  Similar to the Book of Sirach (which we heard last week), 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 as from a people who are being oppressed.  Within the 100 years between the writing of Sirach and Wisdom, the geo/political winds had changed, with the Greek Empire in collapse giving way to the rise of the Romans, and setting up the conflicts that eventually blossom in the New Testament.  During the writing of the Book of Wisdom, 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 this week 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 however, that we are without fault.  Even so, because we are God’s own, he is patient with us, giving us time to turn away from sin and return to Him.  The joy we feel at God’s willingness to take us back is echoed in our Psalm as we sing “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.”

Our second reading begins a three week study of Paul’s 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.

Our Gospel this week is another story unique to Luke.  You may recall last week’s Gospel where we heard the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  Many of Jesus’ detractors often criticized the company he kept, spending time with what they considered the dregs of society (tax collections, prostitutes, the sick) who in their eyes 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 in this week’s Gospel is just such a story.  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.  In order to get a better view, he climbs a tree.  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 this as an opportunity to reclaim one more lost sheep… an opportunity that leads to his salvation.

Final thoughts:
So… who among us is justified in the eyes of the Lord?  Our readings would seem to indicate that we are all justified before God for the shear fact that we were created by God.  But is that enough?  No.  Like the perfect parent, God stands ready to forgive his children, but that forgiveness can only be offered to those who ask… those willing to turn back to the Lord, recognize him, and seek to do better.  Just like the Pharisees, however, our society will often judge certain classes of people as being unworthy of this great gift.  But Jesus goes out of his way to remind us that even those who might seem unredeemable are in fact those who are in most need of hearing what he has to say.  For you see, Jesus teaches us that 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.  All we need to do is give them that chance.

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