One day a few years ago I was working on a project in the copy room at the retreat house where I work, and I made some sort of error. I don’t recall now what it was; I don’t even recall what the project was. I know for sure that I said something aloud to myself, something like “well that was really stupid of you.” I know this because I recall very clearly my friend and colleague, Bill, overhearing me and saying in a delightful manner “Is that any way to speak to God’s beloved?” It stopped me in my tracks. We smiled at one another and had a good chuckle.
Now, I was hardly being very harsh with myself. And yet, it was great that Bill reminded me that that’s not how God is, so why would I be that way with myself. Why would any of us be that way with ourselves, or with anyone else for that matter, when God does not harangue us? And I do think the voices in our heads – at least for most of us – are not very gentle. The book of Wisdom tells us today that God overlooks people’s sins that we may repent. God doesn’t harangue us. Rather, God gives us lots of room to breathe, and with dignity, come round.
And if we’re not too sure about this, we’ve got the example of how Jesus treats Zacchaeus. It’s a bare bones story about Zacchaeus. So there’s no avoiding the fact that this short, wealthy, chief tax collector, is a 1st century revenue man for the Roman empire-- the brutal, repressive empire. He’s a known extortionist, charging people far more than they really owed in taxes: pay up or else… Instilling fear and anxiety, in that oppressed society. It’s no wonder they were all appalled when they saw Jesus stopping beneath him and smiling up at him in that sycamore tree, saying “come down, quickly Zacchaeus; I want to go to your home and hang out with you today.”
Jesus didn’t harangue Zacchaeus. In fact, Jesus doesn’t rebuke him at all. We might recognize the teaching from Wisdom and say he “overlooked Zacchaeus’ sins.” And Zacchaeus repented. It seems that Jesus’ welcome turned his heart around, or broke it open and freed him, more than any rebuke could have done.
Something in the way Jesus looked at him and spoke to him, broke through all the layers of defensiveness, fear, anxiety, greed – whatever Zacchaeus was carrying – Jesus broke through it all, and reminded him of who he is. Jesus names him as a descendent of Abraham; he is the beloved of God. Jesus communicated it in such a way that Zacchaeus couldn’t miss it and was freed to turn back to the truth of who he is.
And this is what’s on offer for all of us.
I listened to a radio broadcast recently of a woman telling of her decision to give up buying new clothes. She has, for decades, loved clothing and admitted that she would go shopping as a pick-me-up after a bad day or to celebrate a success or to calm her down in frustration, in short as a panacea for anything. She came to recognize this addiction and the harm it was doing to her and to the Earth. The woman spoke eloquently and poignantly about the challenge and the struggle.
This is one example to show that just as in Jesus’ time, here in our North American cultures today, and throughout the world, we face great challenges. As we grapple with climate change, as we look to the struggles throughout our world, as we hear of further violence in our schools and city streets, and carry many other concerns in society and in our personal lives, there is a great deal of anxiety and fear. And there are people, like Zacchaeus, and systems – social, political, cultural systems – that cause or perpetuate violence and suffering, and instill fear, anxiety, resentment, self-defensiveness, and more. And when we’re acting out of those fears, etc, we’re not living as the beloved of God. Fortunately, God is not going to harangue us about it. But God comes, again and again, in small and big ways, reminding us of the covenant, of the relationship with God who, as the book of Wisdom says, has fashioned everything and loves everything God has made. God, lover of souls, whose imperishable spirit is in all things.
Our God is ever faithful to us and to this world. God is ever reminding us of the promise God makes to all of us, and to all creation – to dwell within us. So that we too can come down out of our roost, and walk with Christ, trusting in the vision God has for us and the world, trusting in what Jesus showed us of how to live… how to love ourselves, how to love one another and all creation.
Yvonne Prowse, M.A. is a spiritual director at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She chairs/co-chairs their training programs in spiritual direction; teaches many aspects of spiritual direction and Ignatian spirituality; and supervises other spiritual directors. Yvonne has been leading retreats and lecturing on spirituality for over three decades, with emphasis on eco-spirituality and feminine spirituality. Yvonne holds a Master of Arts in spirituality and spiritual direction from Fordham University. She has also trained with indigenous elders of North America and of Burkina Faso, finding these spiritualities complimentary. A native of New Jersey, her ministries in the U.S. included care for homeless adults and children; and interfaith peace & justice work. They ran a gamut from balancing budgets and fundraising to singing children to sleep, to developing curriculum for adults to explore living simply and in greater harmony with the Earth. She authored “Spiritual Direction and the Call to Ecological Conversion” in Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, December 2016, and led the Contemplative Retreat for the annual conference of Spiritual Directors International(SDI), in 2017. In her “down time”, when she’s not playing rummy or reading Harry Potter with her nieces, she might be found jogging, hiking or skiing, preferably in the wilderness.
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