Life & Soul

We speak of forgiveness so easily, but do we mean it?

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus, by James Tissot

The 31st Sunday of the Year
Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10 (Year C)

“In your sight, Lord, the whole world is like a grain of dust that tips the scales, like a drop of morning dew falling to the ground. Yet you spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, you whose imperishable spirit is in all.”

Wisdom’s prayerful meditation struggles to reconcile, within the same Godhead, a transcendence beyond every creature, and yet, at the same time, an unmerited tenderness towards every sinner. The Creator, so far beyond us, is revealed as the one “whose imperishable spirit” dwells within us. We can never penetrate the mystery of God, but in prayer we can rest in him whose imperishable Spirit has chosen to dwell within us.

Jesus lived this mystery throughout his ministry. He was in himself the incarnation of the God who is “the lover of life”. Such is the God described in John’s Gospel: “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life.”

It is within the context of this God, full of compassion and abounding in love, that we must understand the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus, and the subsequent unease it provoked in the onlookers.

Zacchaeus was a senior tax collector, a man who had abused his authority to enhance his wealth at the expense of the poor. Jesus not only forgave this sinner; he also longed to be with him, to share something of his life: “Zacchaeus, come down! Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.”

The onlookers complained that such a sinner should be received in this manner.

In their complaint we are confronted with the limits of our own forgiveness. We speak of forgiveness so easily, and yet must confess that there are limits to our own forgiveness. We who long for God’s forgiveness frequently deny that same grace to others.

True forgiveness is not the triumph of our own forbearance. It is God’s gift to the sinner, enabling the sinner to become the channel of his forgiveness. Like Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus, may we become those who, having found forgiveness, are gifted with the love at the heart of forgiveness.