Homily for 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007

The writer of the Book of Wisdom in our first reading (Wisdom 11:22-12:2) asks us to imagine a set of scales for working out the mass of something. You don't often see them these days. There is a pan for holding things on each side of a balancing beam. On one side you put an object of known mass. On the other side the thing you want to weigh. Say you put kilogram weight on one side and a heap of sand on the other. You keep adding or subtracting the grains until you get a balance. If the scale is sensitive enough a grain of sand added to the pan may change the balance.

The author of Wisdom is trying to illustrate the smallness of the world as he knew it. It is also likened to a drop of dew on the ground. Both comparisons are showing how small and insignificant this world is. Compared to what? Compared to the merciful God who hates nothing that he has made.

We know well how insignificant the earth is. We have seen the images from space. We have seen the images from telescopes that look into the past as astronomers seek the limits of the universe. Compared to the vastness out there we are a mere speck at most. What we call the universe is incomprehensible in its size.

This book of Wisdom, unlike many other books of the Old Testament, has come down to us in the Greek language, not Hebrew. It was written in Egypt for the Greek speaking Jewish people living there. Perhaps written by a scribe living in Alexandria a centre of Greek culture in the last century before Christ. These people are living in the Greek world in the aftermath of the empire of Alexander the Great. That Greek culture was a real threat to Jewish faith. This book of wisdom is written to support the Jews whose faith is threatened by the dominate Greek religion with its pantheon of gods. These who were both good and bad. There was a constant warring between them. The author here is making a claim that is at the heart of the scriptures that everything is from God and is good. It is how we think and act that brings evil into the world.

In our day what the writer is doing is similar to what people such as the pope is doing trying to counteract the influence of secularism in our Western world.

For the book of Wisdom everything God creates is good not just bits of it. He says to God, "You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life, and whose imperishable spirit is in all." That is a broad and wonderful statement that all is good because God's spirit is within everything.

That way of looking at the world is a universe away from ancient Greek thinking. It is a long way from much of the world view today which excludes God from everything. We only need to exist to be loved by God before we do anything. Just as there is no explaining the love of a parent for a child, so there is no explaining the love of God for all God made.

Zacchaeus is a beautiful example of that truth. Popular opinion held him to be a wrong living person. We do not know if that is true. He is excluded. Does that mean God withholds his love from him too? Not at all according to Jesus. That love revealed in Jesus' openness to him exposes Zacchaeus' goodness.

The immensity of the universe we have had exposed to us in our lifetime has often caused people to say God is not there anywhere. On the contrary Wisdom says, all of that is but a speck on God's scale. But God loves that speck. God hears the cry of the poor. God hears the cry for justice of those who are trapped in oppressive situations. God loves each and everyone and everything.

"The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost" Jesus says. Zacchaeus is lost, not necessarily because he was bad. That is only the judgement of others. He is lost because he is excluded from human company. Jesus saves him by inviting him to join him at home. Jesus invites him to the Kingdom. He is invited to the Messianic banquet: he is reconciled, he is saved.

Fr Graham