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Spirituality of the Readings
31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
October 30, 2016
John Foley, SJ
Up a Tree

The universe is tiny.

Wait! It cannot be tiny. The Hubble tells us just the opposite, how appallingly vast it is, with billions of galaxies, each just like our Milky Way, scattered through all the universe. And get this: each one contains literally millions or even trillions of stars.

A billion trillions of stars!

And you say that the universe is tiny?

Well, consult the First Reading: “The whole universe is as a grain from a balance* or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.” That writer had never looked through the Hubble telescope.

Ok, is the universe large or small?

Imagine this. Picture an ancient scientist using a weighing scale. It has pans on either side, balanced with each other. Now add the vast totality of all that exists (in other words, the entire universe) on one side, and place God on the other.

The universe, everything included, is outbalanced and far up in the air.

God’s imperishable spirit is in each grain of dust and each is most loved by God.
If you can see what we are talking about, get ready for the most bizarre part. Lodged within our miniscule universe are you and I, the size of microbes. Impossible that so huge a God could or would love microorganisms like us. We are smaller than small. Certainly too small to matter

Don’t be discouraged. The greatest surprise in the universe is waiting for you. The First Reading reveals it, as it makes this speech to God:

You love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? … You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

God’s imperishable spirit is in each grain of dust and each is most loved by God. Yes.

You and I are beloved to God. We are cherished by the “Lord and lover of souls.”

But come down to earth for a moment. Look at Zacchaeus in Sunday’s Gospel. Notice that this man was small of stature, sort of the way each of us is. He was so short he had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus over the crowd. This cheeky man, up on a branch in the tree, made Jesus laugh. Out loud! He said, in effect, “Zacchaeus, you are up a tree! Come down quick. I want to have dinner with you tonight. We don’t want to dine hanging from a tree branch!”

Zacchaeus was not someone who “lives right and does right.” He was a tax-collector, selfish and held in bad repute. Does God therefore withhold love and grace from him?

Not a chance. The Christ of God comes, in person, to his door and waits patiently for him to scramble down from the tree. Jesus wants to love the man’s goodness into existence. Are you and I bold enough to have the master of the universe over for dinner? Even though our clothes are torn and dirty? Even small and unworthy as we are?

Let’s try it.

God loves everything that he has created, and loves it very well. The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the least specks in the universe.

You and me.

John Foley, SJ
*What is a grain from a balance? A “balance” was a clever device used to compare weights. It had a crossbeam balanced on a central fulcrum. There was a pan hanging from each end. In the ancient world you placed something to be weighed in one pan and then added standard weights to the other. When the two pans came to an even balance you could count the number of weights and see how heavy the item was.

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Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go