I was always enthralled by stories of the Marshallese sea-faring sailors who used only their knowledge of known ocean swells and stars to guide them. The attunement to nature so keen. I, myself, never tired of watching moon phases, bright planets and visible constellations from the majestically yielding and vast darkness. How humbling to see… I loved hearing the names of the stars by those who knew them from generations ago. How relational!
Haven’t the pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope been amazing surprises and awe inspiring? How much is unknown to us! Glimpses of previously unseen cosmic wonders from so many light years away come present to us as new sights and with insights, scientific and spiritual.
Today’s reading from Wisdom opens with words of the universe being “a grain” or “a drop of morning dew” before God. These images are precious in their minuteness and hint at vastly more. Mystery and wonder. As questions abound of cosmic origins and the relationally with us and our earthly dwelling, so does faith quest open to where and how we continually come to see and understand God.
In the second chapter of Laudato Si’, this is said of the Mystery of the Universe: “… the world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things…”
What a familiar story today’s gospel may be, except that we hear it in this new time. Zacchaeus wanted to see.
The descriptors of Zacchaeus are there: a descendant of Abraham, a tax collector, short, curious, quick to asses a situation, persistent with intent, cleverly addresses obstacles, responds quickly, judged by others, capable of joy, accepting of being seen, courage to see himself, willing to reconcile with the past, wanting to address known or unknown injustices, open to new relationships, freed for generosity.
Zacchaeus didn’t have a telescope for clear viewing. Who would have imagined it was a tree that enabled Zacchaeus to see! Who and what helps us see?
Did Zacchaeus have any idea what to expect? How could he have anticipated the story of his life changing so? To right past wrongs and injustices? What implications would it mean for his family? How would new relationships unfold? And how would the encounter with Jesus continue to reach into and out of his heart?
What made Jesus stop in Jericho when he intended to pass through? What gives us unexpected pauses? Pauses that can be life changing for ourselves and others…pauses to deeply and consciously notice something of nature right where we are…pauses that allow us to consider the evolving universe anew… pauses that help to see and value diversity….
What shifts when we notice we are in the midst of global warming here on Earth, our common home? Can we turn from the human and planetary implications of war? When do we look up, with open pause, to meet the eyes and hear a story from someone we never really met before… a family member, a neighbor, an immigrant, a co-worker, a supportive-services person, someone who belongs to our church, one with different outlooks and beliefs?
What moments of mutuality there must have been between Jesus and Zacchaeus in that pause! Seeing and being seen invites relationally, response and responsibility.
Pope Francis has set forth an invitation to a three year synod, a synod of synodality. It is an intentional pause for the Church. It was cast world-wide; the invitation was to all, welcoming the wisdom and richness of diverse experiences, perceptions of and hopes for the Church. This journey of synodality, of sharing, listening, reflecting, seeing, acknowledging the Church’s past and present, and trusting the Spirit for discernment, is new. It is a pause along the way, a moment to re-focus for prophetic visioning for the future of the Church as part of one earth community. It is toward communion, participation and mission.
What might Jesus and Zacchaeus have discussed along the road as they journeyed together? What shifts might have happened to see from shared vantage points?
May God’s fundamental love continue to be the moving force in all.
Maryknoll Sister Janet Hockman, who joined the congregation in 1986, has served in the Marshall Islands, Nepal, Haiti and the United States.
Featured image: This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and released to the public on July 12, 2022, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth. (NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI and available in the public domain)