Reflection posts


Joyce Rupp Reflection -- August, 2016

posted Aug 7, 2016, 5:19 PM by Sue Weigand   [ updated Aug 7, 2016, 5:20 PM ]

My friend in Toronto, Canada, now in his 80's, has yearned for a world of peace for as long as I have known him. I admire Austin Repath greatly for his relentless search in how find a way to make a difference. Here is a small extract from his essay A Call to Love.(http://www.acalltolove.ca)

"Think of love as an energy and not just an emotion. "What we call 'love' is a radiation that pervades the whole cosmos....Think of it as the basic energy of the universe. Surely this is what spiritual teachers East and West have continuously taught: that the purpose of living is to become a source of loving energy. ... Love is infectious, a benign virus that can be passed from one person to another. When it happens there is often an awakening of something profound and powerful. The heart opens and starts pouring out love. This is what the human heart at its very best is all about."

What if every person who longs for a better world made an intentional effort each day to bring more love into the space in which he or she lives and works? Imagine the flow of peace that would circle around our planet. The following adapted reflection is from my book, Prayer Seeds, due out next February. I hope it will encourage you to join me in praying for world peace.

Sending Peace Forth, Joyce Rupp

Place your hands over your heart. Move your attention toward your spirit. Slowly go inward until you reach that place deep inside of you where abiding peace dwells, the core of Enduring Love. Hold this peace as you bring to mind the suffering ones of our world, especially those who live in fear of being harmed. Then open your hands and extend them outward, palms up. Send forth the deep peace in the center of your being to these suffering ones.

Place your hands again over your heart. Bring to mind those whose presence, personality, ideas, attitudes or actions create judgmental, hostile or irritating feelings within yourself. Focus on one particular person or a group of people who challenge your ability to love. Open your hands and extend them outward, palms up. With as much true intention as will arise in you, send forth the indwelling peace at the center of your being to this person or group.

Place your hands over your heart once more. Think of those known or unknown who consider you an enemy. Open your hands and extend them outward, palms up. With as much true intention as will arise in you, send forth the deep peace in the center of your being to those who consider you their enemy.

Close with the following prayer:

Peace Bringer, create in me a heart filled with the kind of love that reflects your own. Send this love to those I care about and those I do not. Open my mind to those I want to reject. Open my heart to those I prefer to avoid. May my thoughts, words and deeds be devoid of violence in any form. Soften whatever hardens my heart so that I bring your peace and kindness wherever I go.

Abundant peace,
 
Joyce Rupp

Joyce Rupp Reflection -- July, 2016

posted Aug 7, 2016, 1:50 PM by Sue Weigand   [ updated Aug 7, 2016, 1:51 PM ]

Last week I encountered an unusual creature on a forested walking path. I happened to look down and saw a tiny snapping turtle the size of one-third of my palm. I almost stepped on it because the camouflaged, mud-caked shell looked much like dirt on the path. The tiny head and feet were hidden under its shell, which led me to think the turtle was dead. I bent over to carry it to the side of the path. As I lifted it up, a slight movement told me it was scared, not dead. I didn't want the creature to be smashed by a heavy foot or a biker's tire so I laid it down carefully in the grass. After I walked about twenty feet a sudden thought stopped me. I remembered the small creek on our farm. Pregnant snapping turtles would come out of the water and go on land to incubate their eggs. They would dig a hole, lay their eggs and cover them with soil for protection and warmth. I once saw little turtles like the one I found on the path painstakingly making their way down to our creek after hatching. I said to myself, "That little turtle is just trying to find its way to the water."

With this memory I quickly back-tracked and found the lost one, picked it up and carried it a hundred feet to the edge of the lake. An amazing thing took place as I set the turtle down on the sand. At first the hatchling pulled its head and feet in tightly. Then the head slowly came out and pulled upward, as if sniffing the air. The turtle wasn't looking at the water but I soon realized it was actually getting a whiff of the moistness. It sat there for a minute with a puzzled look, then turned toward the water and moved as fast as its tiny feet would go. Into the lake it slipped, quickly out of view. If turtles have an experience of ecstasy that probably best describes the moment it dashed into the water. I loved seeing what happened when that little creature recognized "home."

As I walked away from the lake, I kept smiling about the newly-born turtle's recognition of where it belonged. Metaphors and parallels formed about my inner life. I wondered: Do I know my Source? Am I at Home? How often do I 'sniff the air" and find where my heart belongs? How quickly do I move toward what brings the greatest sense of peace and well-being? I thought of the countless things that distract me from heading toward the Source, toward the One Great Love, where my heart knows it belongs. I pondered what causes me to withdraw like the turtle when I fear what could be challenging or uncertain. Gradually a prayer formed and kept me bonded with the Holy One as I made my way around the rest of the lake:

Source of my life, Home of my spiritual heritage,
pick me up from the path of my fruitless wanderings.
Carry me back to you, the birthplace of loving kindness.
Be tender with my fears. Draw me out if I tend to pull back.
When I get buried in the darkened corridors of uncertainty,
help me emerge from my mud-laden shell of confusion.
Reorient me in the right direction that leads toward you.
Show me time and again how to arrive where I belong.
Encourage me to eagerly seek your presence.
Remind me often that you are my Source and true Home.

Abundant peace,
 
Joyce Rupp

A Magnificent and Simple Faith

posted Jan 19, 2016, 10:02 AM by Vidal Martinez

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

On my shelf is a marvelous book entitled the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). It is a large book—about 800 pages. There is one adaptation called The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which isn’t as dense, but is still substantial. This book, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a marvelous distillation of the CCC, but one that still covers the main topics.

The original edition that resulted from Vatican II is magnificent! It contains the results of the Church Councils—from Nicaea in 325 to the Second Vatican Council in 1962. The early Church Fathers dealt with deep theological questions that were raised as the faith spread.

But what is truly astounding is how simply our faith can be explained to someone asking, “Just what does the Catholic Church teach as basic to one’s faith?” When you come down to it, there are three basic and all-inclusive truths that we believe.

Universal Truths
The first truth has to do with a doctrinal truth in three parts:
1) Who made me? God.
2) What is my destiny? To be with God for eternity, in union with the saints and our loved ones.
3) What must I do to obtain that eternal destiny? To be the best person I can be and to follow the moral code taught by Jesus.

The second truth is that Jesus died to save us from our sins and rose from the dead. The third truth is the moral code that Jesus gave us for everyday life: love God, love your brother and sister. If someone asked what you believe as a Catholic, just knowing the simple answers to those three questions would be a very good start. To pull out the CCC and say, “This is what I believe,” would be off-putting.

The apostles and first disciples began preaching the Gospels. And people welcomed it because they had never heard such truths in their lives. They not only believed, but also were willing to be martyred for those beliefs.

St. Paul, in writing to his community in Corinth, also put the faith in simple terms: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Simple, is it not? Of course, it had consequences: admitting to being a Christian often meant persecution and death.

It’s amazing how blessed we are to know and believe so much in so few words.

The Journey of Our Lives

posted Feb 4, 2015, 8:14 PM by Vidal Martinez


by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

It’s common to describe our lives on this earth as journeys. Each of us weaves a personal history made up of moments in which we are caught up in events—most of which we did not anticipate. And we make decisions and do things that affect others in ways we cannot grasp.

I suspect there are a few of my readers who have kept diaries. I began journaling in 1972 after I had been ordained about 11 years. It was a time when I was going through a bit of a vocational struggle, and I didn’t fully understand all that was going on within me. I smile now, 42 years later, realizing what was actually happening. It was the Lord saying to me, “Jim, it is time for you to grow up and mature a bit.”

After 13 years of isolated religious and priestly formation, I was still very immature emotionally. My intellect had grown, but not much of myself. But growing up was exactly what I needed to do—both as a priest and as a human being. However, in my own circumstances, it felt as though I was being pushed and pulled, knocked down, and shook. I realize now that real growth and maturity are not something we do. It is what is being done to us as we struggle through it.

I’m sure that most married couples come to a point in their lives when they, too, are struggling. The honeymoon is long gone; personality quirks arise; boredom can creep in. What we don’t understand is that what we all go through is perfectly normal in our journeys. Growth, maturity, and wisdom can feel as if we are fighting through a jungle. It’s dark and scary without much light ahead. Maturity brings with it scars and bruises as a result of that journey. That’s why there is nothing on earth as soft and tender as an infant. Mature adults have a different kind of skin.

Never Alone 

As we grow older on our journeys, we realize two important truths: life is made up of our actions and decisions; and life is also composed of events beyond our control. Major events can occur and lives are changed forever. Think of the one moment before the planes crashed into the Twin Towers on 9/11, and what occurred to all of those people. We use expressions such as “just a second,” or “in a moment’s time.” In the life of a single adult, there are countless moments that are packed with potential for good or ill.

What is so important is that we understand and embrace the truth that not a single one of us walks our journeys alone. When God made us in his image and likeness, he also destined us to eternal life with him. If someone is not saved, it will be by his or her choice, not God’s. At the same time, God never wants us to struggle alone.

God will never turn from us during our journeys. Never forget that sometimes when we fall, we actually fall forward. The miracle is that when we get up, we are better off for that fall. We mature from it. The fact that we can’t make ourselves perfect is trumped by the saving death of Jesus on Good Friday. As we say in modern jargon what Jesus said to each of us: “Just keep doing the best you can even if it’s not perfect. Remember, I’ve got your back. I died for you.”

The Power of Hope

posted Jan 21, 2015, 8:44 AM by Vidal Martinez


by Friar Jeremy Harrington, O.F.M.

The loss of hope is a terrible thing. It can be lethal. But for most of us, a deficiency of hope shows itself in more subtle ways: discouragement, putting our trust in everything but God, or focusing too much on the negative in the world.

This month, I find hope. I’m inspired by three things: young people marching for life, Martin Luther King Jr., and Louis Zamperini.

For six years, I lived in Washington, DC, and marveled at the dedication and sacrifice of thousands of young people who come each year in January for the March for Life. A typical schedule for many of them is boarding a bus at the end of the school day and riding 12 to 14 hours overnight to DC. When they arrive in the morning, they may tour the Capitol or the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, which is where I lived. That evening, young people pack the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, wall to wall, for a Mass. Many sleep that night in a school gym.

On their second day in Washington, in the morning they attend a youth rally and have Mass at one of several places: the Verizon Center, DC Armory, Cathedral of St. Matthew, or the Patriot Center at George Mason University. At noon, young and old gather at the National Mall—often in very cold weather—for the March for Life to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court. After that, many groups get on their bus for an overnight ride home. I am inspired by these enthusiastic, dedicated, religious young people and by teachers and parents who accompany them.

Maybe they found a few minutes to visit the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. near the Mall. The sculpture of King stands on the “Stone of Hope.” In his 1963 “I Have a Dream” address on the Mall, he said, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” In all the fierce opposition he faced in his nonviolent struggle for civil rights, he needed a stone of hope. He is my second source of inspiration this month.

The third is Louis Zamperini. The movie Unbroken, based on the biography by Laura Hillenbrand, shows his strong hope. In World War II, he was a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator. One flight damaged by enemy flack barely made it back to the base. Another flight crashed into the Pacific, and he and two others survived 47 days in a life raft.

Rescued by the Japanese, for two years Zamperini bore brutal treatment as a prisoner of war. He grew up Catholic, but said it was the message of Billy Graham at a revival that caused him to turn his life around after his return. Zamperini then went back to Japan to express his forgiveness to his tormentors. That takes faith, hope, and love.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the blessings of hope: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity” (1818).

Please, God, give me lots of hope!

The Liturgical Calendar: Its Meaning and Meditation

posted Jan 20, 2015, 11:30 AM by Vidal Martinez

The Feast of the Epiphany and the Close of Christmastide

 



Walking into my local parish for daily Mass on Monday after we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord on January 11th, it looked rather empty. I don’t mean there were fewer people than normal, but the church itself felt empty. The Advent wreath was gone. Gone also were the elaborate nativity scene complete with life size wise men from the East, the Christmas trees in full decoration on the edges of the sanctuary, and the red and green bunting from the rafters. In their places there was…nothing. As the priest walked out to begin Mass wearing the green vestments, my thoughts crystalized—ah, yes…Ordinary Time is back. Christmastide is over. The Church has established a rich liturgical calendar marked by themes and seasons related to our salvation, practice, and spirituality. This article will give a little overview and insight into the Church calendar and what it means for us.

The Liturgical Calendar and Spirituality

Of course to say that the Church invented the idea of a calendar would simply be false. But I want to provide a way of looking at the Church’s calendar that differs from the way we look at regular calendars, which are almost omnipresent—from our cell phones, to office desks, to bedroom walls and bargain bins at Barnes and Noble. The calendar on my phone fills up rather more than I would wish sometimes, but if I scroll down through the months it will scroll through infinity (I’m guessing, I haven’t actually tried beyond the year 2050). As I go through these future years the reminders and obligations get fewer and fewer. But these days will eventually fill up, I will hopefully go to all the appointments, and then they will pass into the past and the calendar will continue scrolling. It almost feels like a merry-go-round. I go around and around the calendar and sometimes feel I’m going nowhere. The temptation is to do the same thing with the liturgical calendar.



Michelangelo, Creation of the Heavenly Bodies 

But I want to propose looking at the Church’s liturgical calendar like a screw going into soft wood rather than a merry-go-round. Yes, the screw goes round and round; but the very process of going round and round draws the screw deeper and deeper. As we go round and round the liturgical calendar over the years of our lives we should be drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of Christ’s life and mission. The bible begins, in the first verses of the first chapter of the first book (Gen 1:1-2) by saying

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth- and the earth waswithout form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the water…” (NAB translation)

In essence, God reaches out over the chaos and brings order. One of the defining features of God is the bringing of order to chaos. In His wisdom and profound understanding of our humanity, Our God provides for us and communicates with us in ways we truly need as creatures; and, time being so deeply felt by the created world, the liturgical calendar gives meaning to our journey through time. In order to see this, we need to look at the basic periods established in the Church’s liturgical year.



The Periods of the Litugical Calendar




Ordinary Time: A Fruitful Time 

As I mentioned, we have entered into Ordinary Time. It can be easy to fall into the common trap of viewing Ordinary Time by our modern definition of ordinary. In other words-- plain, insignificant, almost meaningless time. But that is far from what is meant when the Church calls the majority of the time of the year ‘ordinary.’ The is the basis for calling the time ordinary, actually refers back again to that defining quality of God as the Divine Orderer of creation. It means that the time is ordered rather than chaotic. By identifying periods of the year through a calendar, the Church has been an instrument in God’s reaching out to bring order and system into the chaos of our world. So, Ordinary Time does not mean a “ho-hum time,” but is rather a time to reflect on how God intervenes in the world and brings his divine presence into the chaos of our life. It is a time for us to break from all the preparation and celebration of other feasts and practice our faith and relationship with God in the calm.



In addition to Ordinary Time, there are five other major seasons of the Church’s year that draw our focus toward preparing and then celebrating the two greatest gifts of God to humanity—the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas) and His death and resurrection, the act that brought about salvation (Easter). Unlike the secular calendar, the liturgical calendar considers both Christmas and Easter to be seasons, not just individual days. The twelve days of Christmas are very real, and more than simply the basis for a cute song about turtle doves. Christmas season closes with the feast of the Epiphany, which we just celebrated on January 6. The feast of Easter is also celebrated for 9 days as an Octave. Thus the eight days after Easter should be celebrated with the same vigor as Easter Sunday itself; and Eastertide—or Easter season—in the Church continues through the feast of Pentecost.



Of course we are all familiar with the preparation periods of Advent and Lent that precede these major celebrations of Gods’ action in the world. The final season is the shortest—the Tridium. The Tridium is made of the three days leading up to Easter: beginning with the vigil on Holy Thursday and ending with evening prayer on Easter Day. The Tridium is so important that it merits its’ own season, even though this season is only three days long.

By going round and round preparing for and then celebrating the great actions of God in the world and keeping in mind the presence of God keeps order in the chaos in the in-between times, I think we cannot help but grow deeper in love with Jesus Christ so that each Tridium becomes different for us as we continue to be drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery that is limitless in its’ ability to feed us.

So let’s resolve together to continue to go round and round the liturgical calendar and allow it to draw us deeper and deeper into the mystery of the coming of Jesus Christ as man, his offering of that life back to the Father, and the continued times of recognizing God’s ordering power over the chaos; for if the liturgical calendar doesn’t do this we might as well throw it in with the calendars of cats playing pianos offered for half off beginning January second.

ADVENT: A SEASON OF WAITING

posted Nov 29, 2014, 9:12 AM by Vidal Martinez

Waiting is a lost virtue. And technology has only contributed to this loss. No need to wait in line to buy movie tickets any longer—buy them online. No need to wait to read the latest issue of a magazine—read it online. These days we can grow impatient when our computers take more than a few seconds to load.

That’s why Advent can serve as a reminder of the holiness of waiting. Faithful hope is a virtue, a grace, even a joy. Many expectant mothers have told me that while they eagerly look forward to the birth of their child, the pregnancy itself is filled with joy. “I’ll miss having my baby inside of me,” one mother said to me. Perhaps Mary felt the same about Jesus.


Paradoxically, Christian waiting also encourages us to find God in our present—not simply in our future. God is not only coming; God is already here. So while we anticipate the future with hope, we know that living mindfully in the present is a key way to encounter God.

Remember that God does not say to Moses in Exodus, “I was” or “I will be.” God says, “I am.” Here and now.

One of the great joys of Christianity, however, is that God always has something good prepared for our future.

For the people of Israel it was a messiah. For us now it is greater intimacy with Christ, who is alive in the Spirit. And for us at the end of our earthly lives, it is eternal life. Find God today—but wait in hope for a beautiful future.
Fr. James Martin,SJ

"Goodness was stamped in gold letters on every creature."

posted Oct 15, 2014, 10:05 AM by Vidal Martinez

A quote by St. Therese Couderc in the daily devotional,Give Us This Day, has occupied my mind lately. As this foundress of the Religious of the Cenacle lay on her deathbed, she "received a vision in which the word Goodness was stamped in gold letters on every creature.

My first response to this was a positive one in which I readily acknowledged the many that I know who appear to have Goodness emblazoned on their soul. But then I went beyond the borders of this affirming experience to the wider world and the daily news. I wondered how this spiritual vision could be true for those who behead another person. How could Goodness possibly be stamped on someone who does such a cruel and evil deed?

Gradually, I conceded that God sees as I do not see, that somewhere in every human, no matter the worst of crime or greatest loss of virtue, there remains the shining light of Goodness. This light gets smothered over with false beliefs and harsh life experiences that armor the mind and concretize the heart. Only the Holy One knows what leads a person who beheads another to become saturated with heartlessness and vengeance. Only the Eternally Loving One looks deep enough to see through the thick swath of evil deeds to the Goodness etched permanently on every soul.

When I bring St. Therese Couderc's vision closer to my life, I see that even in my own immediate world I am not always ready to recognize the inherent Goodness in everyone. I hesitate to find those golden letters in the politician whose partisan rant leads me to the television mute button, the egotistical seminar facilitator, the church leader who preaches one thing and does another, and those whose behavior violates or negates people's well being. Yet, there, too, Goodness resides.

I can easily appreciate Goodness in those whose views and way of life conform to my own. And I readily find it in people who do good for others. But even with those closest to me, I sometimes forget the beauty of that inner core of never-fading Light, particularly when something they say or do, (or do not say or do), rankles my mind and shakes peace out of my heart. When significant difference of opinion, unfair judgments or shattered expectations cloud my vision, I step away from that beautiful reality of golden radiance imprinted on another's deepest being. Only with prayer, love, and restored faith do I return to the Goodness that illuminates the soul. Only by returning to the teachings and ministry of Jesus do I find the courage to approach each one with belief in their abiding and enduring center of Gold.

This month I hope to see, as Thomas Merton did in his vision on the street corner of Louisville, "the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the Divine." I will try to be more mindful of this by meeting each human being with respect for his or her life, and with gratitude for our kinship on this planet. The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, taught this very thing when he urged his students and readers to approach everyone as a "thou." He trusted that Goodness resides in all. I want to do the same.

Abundant peace,
Joyce Rupp, Sister Servants of Mary

Jesus: The Good Shepherd

posted Oct 15, 2014, 10:00 AM by Vidal Martinez

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

One of the most beloved images of Jesus is of him as the good shepherd. I have in mind a painting of a very handsome Jesus carrying a little sheep on his shoulders. It is a touching image that might bring up tender feelings from our past. But the reality of Jesus as the good shepherd has to be understood in the light of how Jesus described his role: “I lay down my life for my sheep.” For Jesus, the role of shepherd is a matter of life and death.

Some years ago, while making a retreat at St. Francis Retreat House in Pennsylvania, I gained a different understanding of Jesus as the shepherd. The image is very clear in my mind. Jesus is struggling up a mountainside. His pained face is covered in sweat. In the process of his climb, it is easy to see his torn and soiled tunic. His bloody feet are cut by the sharp rocks as he makes his way up that mountain. This was no easy search or quick rescue.

Also startling was that the lamb Jesus is seeking has found his way to an isolated place at the edge of the precipice. He is inches from falling to a horrible death. The lamb is looking at Jesus with the most forlorn look in his eyes that seem to say, “Lord, I’m stuck. Now what do I do?”

As I reflected on Jesus’ face, I could only imagine him saying, “Don’t move! Don’t look down! I’ll rescue you!”

Here with Us

The image of the good shepherd is better linked with Jesus’ suffering and death for our sake. There was nothing sentimental about Jesus’ experience on Good Friday. Perhaps even more startling is the fact that, while he died for all humankind, he would have died if you or I had been the only person on earth who needed redemption.

How is it possible that God, in the flesh, would lay down his life for us? Perhaps it lies in what we cannot fathom: each of us is God’s child; each one of us is Jesus’ brother. Every human is precious in the eyes of God. We don’t deserve, nor could we ever merit, such love from God. But that is the very point: Jesus died because he loves us.

There are times in our lives when we face major struggles. Whether we are the cause of them or they are beyond our control, we often cry out, “Lord, where are you?” We may not realize it, but the Lord’s answer is, “I’m right here with you.”

So the next time you see the image of the good shepherd, let it bring to mind the painting I described. There are no disposable humans that God creates. Jesus died for all—including you and me.

Zacchaeus: The Man with No Friends

posted Sep 17, 2014, 9:13 AM by Vidal Martinez


by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.


One of the most endearing Gospel moments is when Zacchaeus, a tax collector for the Romans, spotted Jesus entering Jericho from his perch in a tree (Lk 19:1-10). If sinners were ranked by the Jews, tax collectors would be right at the top. They were seen as traitors to their own people. And if ever there was a man with no friends, it was surely Zacchaeus. Other tax collectors most likely didn’t like him either since they competed with each other.

We are told that Zacchaeus was man of short stature. In order to spot Jesus, he was willing to make a fool of himself and climb a tree in order to see him over the heads of the crowd. I can imagine the Jews, seeing him perched in the tree, used this opportunity to scorn and mock him. Jesus shocks the crowd when he spots Zacchaeus. Of all the people to call to, Zacchaeus would have been the last—at least in the eyes of his fellow Jews.

Jesus then invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house to have a meal, which no doubt shocked the people witnessing this moment. Anyone in the crowd, by their own estimation, would have been more worthy than this traitor. But Jesus always does the unexpected. Instead of lifting up the mighty, he lifts up the lowly.

Seated among Sinners

While people were grousing over Jesus’ choice to host him for a meal, God’s grace was already having an effect on Zacchaeus. He was ready to make changes—to pay back what he cheated others. It’s called conversion, and it’s what grace can do. Can you imagine Zacchaeus’ house being filled with loud and boisterous tax collectors, while Jesus sat and enjoyed himself?

Jesus’ treatment of sinners leaves no one out. We can be sure that Jesus didn’t let the tax collectors go home without some words about their own lives. He would have challenged them on how they cheated for their own gain.

That is the point the Gospel of Luke makes to us. There is no one beyond God’s love. We all struggle with dividing people into good and bad; worthy and unworthy. It is automatic to us and to our own wounded human nature to have those feelings and make those judgments. But God wants no one to be lost. No matter what they deserve, God is bigger than sin. We are not. Jesus reminded us that God wants us to seek forgiveness for our sins and live.

We need God’s mercy. We are all sinners in the same boat. But what should make us happy is that, right in the middle of the boat, is Jesus. And you know what? He looks very comfortable in that spot.

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