24 Pentecost
First reading and psalm: Hab. 1:1-4; 2:1-4Ps. 119:137-44

Even if you are blessed with natural optimism, God-colored spectacles will make you “see wrongdoing and look at trouble” (Hab. 1:3). Destruction, violence, strife, and contention are the backstory if not the sharp foreground of so much human jostling for power and wealth and so-called security (Hab. 1:2-3). We cry and pray but seemingly to no avail. And then it all comes near. “Trouble and anguish have come upon me” (Ps. 119:143). The line between inner life and outer reality blurs into one seamless blood-dripping garment hanging from the body of a dying man. And it isn’t all injustice. Very often it is simply the ravages of being human and frail and weak. “Perish the day I was born” (Job 3:1, my trans.)

Tilt the transition lenses and something else will appear. A messenger is running with a plain tablet in hand, upon which a vision is written. The vision says “the righteous live by their faith” (Hab. 2:4), to which must be added the spiritual code “given by their God.” God gives the faith that is their own. And so we see a vision of destruction, but do not despair, knowing the messenger is coming at the appointed time, and knowing also that the time is at hand, and knowing that the work of justice is now.

God stops, waits, considers, breathes in, and then speaks: “[C]ease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:16-17). These are not words anchored to the conditions of one time and place. They are the continuous exhalation of God’s circular breathing, a consistent jazz tone of an irrevocable mantra music. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

But the call to action is not yet. The violence of the world has crept within, found a home in every heart, festering and seething. Just “doing something” is often to do more harm. Transgression, iniquity, and deceit are inner wolves dressed in the wool cloth of decency, good intention, and impetuous “good” deeds. First, there must be forgiveness and the washing of guilt (Ps. 32:5). And then, for a time, one must be hidden in God, preserved in safety, transformed and readied (Ps. 32:7). Only then will one’s calling become clear and sensitive, a true response to the realities of life and the moral demands of the moment.

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Foreshadowing the ministry of Simeon the Stylite, Zacchaeus climbed the trunk of a sycamore tree. Having repented of his iniquity, having examined himself truthfully, he looked out and noticed Jesus drawing near. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). Zacchaeus found Jesus, and so found his happiness, and so found the power of his moral and spiritual transformation. “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8).

Zacchaeus found his faith growing abundantly and with it his love for everyone increasing (2 Thess. 1:3). Thus he would live no longer for himself alone, but for him who died and rose again and for all the members of one mystical body. Zacchaeus could venture out into a violent and troubled world because his home and heart housed a holy presence, an empty place filled with steadfastness and endurance and a resolve to do all such good works as providence placed in his path.

Look It Up: Read Luke 19:10. Why did Jesus come?

Think About It: Taste only what God has revealed: your weakness and your mission (Phil. 3:15).

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