What’s in a Question, You Ask?

This will be our final catch-up post. It is about last Sunday’s gospel, but Zacchaeus, the protagonist of the gospel two weeks ago, will show up at the end.

This may have been one of the most difficult gospels of the year to preach about. The Sadducees come to Jesus with a strange, legalistic question… and it is not easy to see how to exactly apply the lesson to our lives.

We can begin by knowing a bit more about these people. We have discussed the Pharisees at length, but who are the Sadducees? They were the higher class in Jewish society, in charge of government in both civil and religious affairs. Recent archaeological studies have shown that the Sadducees lived in extreme luxury, and they were keen to display their obscene wealth very publicly. Earthly life was going so well for them that it is no wonder why they did not believe in the resurrection, or in any kind of judgment at the time of death.

Despite not believing in the resurrection and the afterlife, they still come to Jesus with a question about the afterlife, using a senseless, improbable story—a woman who marries seven brothers. While the contention between the Pharisees and Jesus was one of principle, Jesus had nothing in common with the Sadducees’ worldview and behavior. They are not even testing Jesus, as we see the Pharisees doing quite often. They are simply mocking Jesus. They really could not care less, they are bored and Jesus is entertainment for them.

If you do not want a person and his message to transform your life, you just mock it. The Sadducees had a lot to change if they paid attention and heed Jesus’ message. A life that was about the accumulation of incredible wealth, and its obscene display in a society with lots of poor people could only result in people with empty souls. The only course of action for people like that was to mock this man who preached about the poor, about solidarity, about humility and the other issues they did not care about.

Knowing that the gospel would be challenging, at the beginning of the week I thought how sad it was that having the opportunity to ask something to Jesus, these people would come with such a ridiculous question. I started thinking, what would I ask Jesus? And what would my friends ask Jesus if they were given the chance? So I sent an email to a reduced number of friends. Unlike the Pharisees, all these people came up with amazing questions that show how much they care about the message of the gospel.

The answers (questions, actually!) I received can be divided into four groups. There were questions about the presence of suffering and evil in the world. There were questions about love, “How can I love like you do?” There were questions about salvation—and how many times individuals came up to Jesus with that one. Finally, there were questions about how to do what you tell us to do for others. Among this last group, a middle-aged priest you may have heard of. Unlike the Sadducees, all these people had this desire inside, this hunger for purpose and meaning in the way they live their life and faith. The gospel is meant for people like that.

This is how I understood the gospel of the encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus that we read last week (really catching up here.) I understood that Zacchaeus was someone who despite his wealth was still searching. In such a state of search, the opposite of complacency and comfort, he allowed Jesus to change his heart, and also his behavior in a dramatic, and sacrificial way. Jesus was planning to pass by but because of Zacchaeus, he stayed. My question is then, will he stay with us?






Praying On The Fringes

Catching-up post, part 2. Before we met Zacchaeus this past Sunday, we had two gospels connected with prayer: the parable of the widow and the judge, and the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple.

If you remember the gospel we read on October 2nd (post here) the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus told them that it was not about increasing it, that the problem was that they had none. We reflected in the homily that Jesus was not talking about “doctrinal” faith, but faith in his actual teachings, specifically on (1) a life of absolute forgiveness, (2) a life of service, and (3) the ability to do great things. The story of the widow and the judge adds a fourth area: prayer.

Jesus is asking us, do you believe in prayer? Not the desperate prayer that we get into when a sudden need appears (for us or others,) but like with forgiveness, the constant prayer, prayer understood as a lifestyle. We do not pray, or we do not pray enough, or we pray for the wrong things (inspired by this story, when is the last time we prayed for justice?) or we pray muttering so many words and formulas that we do not allow God to talk to us. Prayer is a conversation, as we have preached before, and we need to allow God to respond to us.

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the characters show extreme attitudes on prayer. Jesus offers the parable to teach us what happens when we are filled with ego. Think of prayer as a conversation, as we just said above. What answer can God give to either of the characters? There is no room for God to answer to the Pharisee, who is really talking to himself (“He spoke this prayer to himself.”) If we think we are perfect, as individuals or as a faith community (or as anything, for that matter,) then our prayer will be empty, and self-aggrandizing, and will fuel our judgmental attitudes. The ego-less prayer of the tax collector allows for God to answer to him.

One last thought. On our previous post we wondered what does it mean to be a person of the margins. Interestingly enough, Jesus teaches on prayer using the example of people in the margins, a widow pleading for justice before an insensitive Judge and a tax collector who can hear the offensive prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee. Perhaps just because in the margins there is less room for ego, for the consideration of superficial needs, and it becomes clearer to us what we and those around us actually need.