This is week three of a six week series entitled “be with him.” This is the wish of Jesus for all of us and he specifically tells one of the men crucified alongside him that he will be with Jesus in paradise, that very day. What does it take to be with Jesus, particularly before the journey to paradise and leading to being with Jesus after the journey to paradise? We’ll use the weekly readings to pull out a theme that supports the overall idea that we can be with him.
It is the goal of Jesus’ disciples to be with Jesus. The apostles were with Jesus for three years and no doubt loved it all. Jesus is a very irresistible person, we read how crowds were always around him, following him wherever he was going. But even more than the irresistible factor Jesus is life giving. When Jesus asked the question do the disciples want to leave, “Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) When there is a chance you can be with the Holy one of God, the one who has the words of eternal life, you should make every opportunity to be with Him. This series will look at ways to be with Jesus.
Two weeks ago the readings challenged us to pray always. We recognized in the three readings an aspect of prayer. Moses prayed for Israel, Paul used scripture to emphasize prayer and Jesus let us see that he always goes off by himself to pray, only for us to discover he is never alone but with God. Prayer allows us to enter into God’s presence, it is the first, very important step to be with him.
Last week’s readings had us consider humility. The prophet Sirach told us God has no favorites, but always answers the humble. Paul pointed to God as the one who accomplished all through Paul’s hand. Jesus told a story of two men, the humble was exalted by God, while the arrogant one still needed to be taught. Praying with humility, asking for God’s help is a sure way to be present with him.
This week we allow the readings to guide us to know that Jesus came to seek and save. Jesus has many messages about seeking out the lost and those who don’t know him, it is a priority to him in all his ministry. We read in Wisdom God loves us so much and has so much compassion for us he will overlook our wrong doing, he wants us to be with him. The second letter to the Thessalonians has the leader’s praying for the community and warning them off false messages, so they will remain close to God. In the gospel we read the story of Zacchaeus who Jesus seeks and saves, it is a conversion that allows even someone who is considered a traitor and hated by all to be with him.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time; Wisdom 11:22-12:2; Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10. The readings guide us to focus on having Jesus prioritizing to seek and save. Jesus is ready to leave everything to find one lost.The readings guide us to focus on having Jesus prioritizing to seek and save. Jesus is ready to leave everything to find one lost. Click To Tweet
The first reading from Wisdom speaks of God who created all things and sees our universe as a speck, or a drop of morning dew. Yet, he cares for and loves all that he has created and he pays attention to even the tiniest of beings, especially we who are made in his image. God loves so much that he is a God of mercy, no matter our sin he is a God who corrects and brings back little by little, and always God’s purpose is to attract his creation back to himself. All that God creates is important and so God will do what is best that all creation may return to him, no matter the circumstances. God works to seek and save all so that he will not lose one of his souls who contain his imperishable Spirit.The readings guide us to focus on having Jesus prioritizing to seek and save. Jesus is ready to leave everything to find one lost. Click To Tweet
In the second reading the second letter to the Thessalonians, the opening concerns prayer for those in the community. The prayer is that God will make those in the community worthy and let them come to be ready for every good purpose. Then the letter goes on to discourage from taking serious the false teaching some are hearing predicating the Lord is coming again soon. The author wants them to be ready at all times and not be concerned with the precise moment Jesus will return. This two prong purpose of this short section; praying for the community and pushing away their concerns for when Christ will return is a way to keep the people in community focused on living the gospel message. These distractions and a loss of faith is what leads people to be lost. The author wants them to know they are loved in the community and that there is no reason to look for anything special or to mistrust what they have learned. Being alone is the surest way to become lost, but all remaining of the same mind and heart in community is a way to be protected. This community has come together and will be saved together but the community leader and God must always keep a watchful eye as there are many distractions in the world.
In the gospel from Luke we hear the story of Jesus meeting Zacchaeus the head tax collector. Tax collectors were considered traitors and sinful people, and Zacchaeus as the head would have been most despised. But as Jesus is passing through he climbs a tree so he came see Jesus. Jesus recognizing his faith and effort calls him down and invites himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’ house. Those who witness what is happening call Jesus out for associating with a sinner. Zacchaeus repents and Jesus proclaims it is for this reason he has come to seek and save those who are lost. Zacchaeus was lost and now is found through his own faith and Jesus’ recognition of him. Zacchaeus demonstrates he wants to be with him.
Jesus approach to seek and save show us we have a God who will do anything to bring us to the place we belong. By bringing us home we are able to be in the presence of him. God who wants all of his creation with him, does all he can so we recognize God wants us and works to save us. To be lost or even just a little off track we know that God will use every means possible to bring us to him. It is a message of God wanting us with him as much as we would want God to be with us.
These are three examples where God values all he has created so much he will forever seek and save those who are lost, including ourselves. God puts priority on the lost and comes after all his creation. There is nothing God will not do to give us every chance to be with him, even doing all the work to seek and save us.
When God seeks us out, it is the case that God wants us to be with him and let us know we depend on him. To be with God includes those times in prayer when God comes to us and gives us grace granting whatever we need. Or being with God can be when we read the word or hear from a loved one. God is always going to remind us we are not alone, he is seeking us, and we will be found and so that we may always be with him.
Be with me – seek and save
God through history and Jesus coming has the main purpose to seek and save all who are not with God. There is no limit to what God will do to save us. We see in the story of Zacchaeus that Jesus just asks him to come down and instantaneously Zacchaeus seems to be saved, he repents and plans on doing restorative work to make up for any wrong doing. We never hear from Zacchaeus again but we must assume he followed through on his promises. We can look at this as an instant conversion.
Paul had an experience of Jesus while he was off to Damascus to destroy new converts to what was then called “the Way,” what today we call Christianity. On his trip he is stopped by a light and hears the voice of Jesus calling him by his Hebrew name says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Paul has to ask who he is, remains blinded for several days and afterwards goes off into Arabia for a time of reflection. Paul’s has such a powerful experience he allows Jesus’ “we” to define his ministry. Paul was prosecuting new Christians and Christ using the word “we” defines himself with them. Paul never thinks of himself alone afterwards but always he is with Jesus and Jesus with him. It leads to Paul’s great definition of the “Body of Christ.” We recognize Jesus again doing what he must to seek and save the lost. It could possibly be Jesus last words in the books of scripture. Paul’s experience although powerful required he take time to be ready, something we might call a slow conversion.Paul’s experience although powerful required he take time to be ready, something we might call a slow conversion. Click To Tweet
I think people who have a conversion might have them more like Paul. Something happens, some kind of powerful experience of Jesus and then in time they are led into a deeper conversion which calls the person to change their life, become more ministry oriented and less concerned about making their way in the secular world. I think the church would like Baptism to be this first powerful experience and maybe in some who choose Baptism for themselves this is the case. But, those Baptized young are probably not mature enough to see it as a conversion, only as a step on the way to conversion. But the symbolism is very real, we enter the water dying to our old self and rise up from the water a new creation. This is what most conversion actually does in the converted.But the symbolism is very real, we enter the water dying to our old self and rise up from the water a new creation. This is what most conversion actually does in the converted. Click To Tweet
My own conversion was much like Paul’s. I had a summer of several events that led to a Jesus experience; I was on a retreat, and I tried to meet with a local Bishop and I finally had a powerful experience of God that included sacrifice. I was changed, but I didn’t know what to do. I had all these strong feelings, I was quite emotional and I really wanted to go save the world in Jesus name. But, I didn’t have much training or depth in my conversion. So I searched and prayed and wondered where it is that I could be most useful for Jesus.
In my search I would seek Spiritual Directors who would tell me to slow down, to let Jesus lead me. I recall being told by one the stages of the butterfly. A butterfly begins as a small egg attached to a leaf or plant. Next stage is called larva, also called a caterpillar. The caterpillar eats and eats becoming quite large, growing a few inches in a couple of weeks. It has short legs, two eyes, and short antennae. When the caterpillar is fully grown it stops eating, and is called a pupa, the pupa of the butterfly is called the chrysalis. Depending on the type of butterfly the pupa is hidden in a tree, behind a leave or even buried in the ground. This stage can last several weeks or for some two years. From the external view it looks like nothing is going on but big changes are happening inside. Finally the adult stage is what we think of as the butterfly, it has compound eyes, long legs, long antennae, and with their large wings they can fly. The one thing they can’t do is grow. While the caterpillar’s job was to eat, the adult’s job is to lay eggs. Many adult butterflies live only a few weeks. Of course the lesson is it takes time to become a beautiful butterfly.
My Spiritual Director would relate this becoming a butterfly to me spiritual life (and I suppose to a certain extent we can see Paul’s conversion story in becoming a butterfly as well.) In the initial experience I was converted, but I was just an egg, I needed time and training to become a butterfly. As much as I wanted to do more than I was doing, it wasn’t possible. I had to eat and eat and eat to grow, to become rich in the life of Jesus. We can rush the pupa and have the butterfly appear sooner through heat and warm air but the butterfly will be underdeveloped; it could not fly, or see or lay eggs, it could not fulfill its purpose. I was the same way, I couldn’t tell scripture stories, or lead classes, I couldn’t lead a spiritual community, I even had the wrong approach in feeding the hungry. Rather than being present with someone as I served a meal, I wanted to feed them and move on to the next hungry person. Sure they did need a meal but more they needed to know their self-worth and that someone else saw them and wanted to be with them. In time and with more experience I would become a better Christian, one as interested in being Christ to others as helping their needs.In time and with more experience I would become a better Christian, one as interested in being Christ to others as helping their needs. Click To Tweet
In conversion we need to develop a depth of our conversion, not just a quick experience that can easily be lost. We are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, visit the prisoner, but just doing things for them is never enough. We do these things in Jesus name so that they know we love them. After conversion it is love we must discover, first how to love ourselves and then learn how to share it with others. Eventually we become that new creation we are called to be when we are found.We do these things in Jesus name so that they know we love them. After conversion it is love we must discover, first how to love ourselves and then learn how to share it with others. Click To Tweet
It is true Jesus seeks and saves, but we have to let ourselves be found. We have to recognize those Jesus sends in our life to tell us Jesus is seeking us. We must slow down enough to see the signs, to recognize that a caterpillar is much more than a caterpillar. There is no forcing a conversion, it must be us experiencing the change ourselves. So we need to be open to the signs, the people in our lives who might be calling us to come to church, or help at a soup kitchen or to visit them at the hospital. To have a conversion experience we must have an experience, to see the butterfly we are meant to become.
Jesus wants a life of happiness and joy for each of us. He has the best plan for a joyful life and so Jesus works to seek and save the lost. When Jesus finds us we are invited to live a new life, a life in which we understand our self-worth and that God sees and knows us. It is God wanting us to be present with him. So God prioritizes seeking and saving, even leaving all others to find the one lost. To find Zacchaeus, to find Paul, to find me, to find you or someone you know who needs to be saved.
Be with him
Our message is to be with him, to be with God. We discover God wants us with him as much as we need to be with God. God puts as much effort into finding the lost as anything else God does. So to be with him we must stop and let ourselves be caught. Jesus not only makes life better but Jesus makes us better at life. But overall to be with him we must recognize him which we can only do when we allow ourselves to be found and saved.