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Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Lk. 19:1-10

Is there more crime and violence in our day than in previous times? Or is it that we hear more about them because of increased news coverage? Whatever the truth there is no doubt we are constantly bombarded with stories of human tragedy and depravity. But how are we, as Christians, relating to these?

I am not just thinking about what we are doing about the problems, but what the problems may be doing to us! We have to live with the possibility of property loss and damage, and even bodily harm. Our homes could be burgled right now while we are in them. But the point I am trying to make is we may stand to lose something more than our video, our music centre or our jewellery. The worst thing that could happen to us in all of this would be to lose our faith in people.

That must never happen. What we really need to do is to put a burglar alarm on our hearts and minds, and not let anyone or anything take from us our faith in people. Our Gospel reading today is a beautiful story of how Jesus believed in people. He was passing through the city of Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, and He stopped and stayed long enough to befriend a distrusted and despised man. I don’t know what kind of faith Zachaeus had in God, but I do know the faith Jesus had in Zachaeus, and it was that faith that changed a greedy tax-collector into a generous benefactor of the poor.

Jesus was well aware of the deceitfulness and wickedness of the human heart, but He never stopped believing in people. Today we desperately need the inspiration of His example. The citizens of Jericho could see Zachaeus as a dishonest tax-collector, and this was true from the words he spoke to Jesus. But to determine what a person has done or has become only tell us half the story. It leaves completely unanswered the question of his potential, of what he could be. This is why Jesus never lost faith in people. He saw them for what they might become.

We must never fall victim to cynicism which says all politicians are dishonest, all police officers are bullies and all business people are out to cheat you, that the whole world is corrupt and no one really cares about anyone but themselves. That is simply not true. We tend to forget that there are people who are honest and hard working, who care for their families, who pay their taxes and support their Church. Just because crime makes the headlines and the good people don’t, that is no reason for us to forget that people, individually and collectively, are not as bad as we might be tempted to think. And we should never forget that every criminal is potentially a child of God.

Our faith in people and our faith in God are all tied together. Those who criticised Jesus for befriending Zachaeus were, no doubt, religious people. They believed in God, but they certainly did not believe in the same way that Jesus did. Jesus believed in God Who cared for people and Who could change their lives. He said, “The Son of Man has come to search out and to save the lost.” And I am not all that sure that you and I can believe in the Father of our Lord Jesus without believing in the people whom He came to seek and to save.

Our faith must always have a vertical and horizontal dimension. When Jesus was asked about the first commandment in the law, He said, “You must love God with all your heart.” And He added, “The second is like to it. You must love your neighbour as yourself.” John in his first Epistle wrote, “If anyone claims to love God but hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he can see, cannot love God whom he has never seen.”

Faith in God and faith in people go together. You cannot turn your back on people and your face towards God, both at the same time. To love God is to love people. To believe in God is to believe in people. They are all part of the same package. We cannot have one without the other.

Lord Jesus, like You let us keep on believing in people. If Your Father never loses faith in us, what right have we to lose faith in people?

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