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Most of us have found ourselves at one time or another as an authority figure, whether in the family as parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle or in the workplace at different levels. We know how difficult it is to get the balance between correcting and ensuring good practice or behaviour and at the same time making sure people know they are valued and loved.

Today’s readings address this problem and give us clear guidelines. In the reading from the book of Wisdom the prayer addresses God in this way: ‘You overlook people’s sins SO THAT they can repent.’ So often we get it the other way round ‘repent first and only then can you face God’. Yet from our own experience we know how the assurance that we are accepted and loved opens us to becoming better. We want to live up to the good opinion, to respond to that love. We begin to believe in our goodness and to let it guide our actions.

Jesus shows this clearly in his dealings with Zacchaeus…A tax collector for the conquering Romans, often overcharging and pocketing some of the takings. He would have been isolated and despised, looked upon as a sinner.

He wants to SEE JESUS. We don’t know whether out of curiosity or something else, Jesus’ response is what is interesting. He invites Zacchaeus down from the tree and invites himself to the tax collector' s house. He doesn’t begin by reading the riot act or calling him to account. No! what follows from the invitation and the meal in his home is a change of heart in Zacchaeus. ‘ Half my property I give to the poor and if I have wronged anybody I will pay them back four times the amount’.

It is not that the need for change is ignored…it is very clear in both readings. But the message is loud and clear - FEAR CANNOT PRODUCE A CHANGE OF HEART, ONLY LOVE CAN.

And this love we all have in abundance. It is not limited.Going back to the first reading:

‘ You love all that exists. You spare all things because they are yours, lover of life.

You whose imperishable spirit is in all'.

When we wake up to this truth and really believe it we too become lovers of life and choose, more and more, what leads to the fullness of life and love and joy.

We may be weighed down by illness or problems of one kind or another but the spark of life is never extinguished, Gods imperishable spirit is still in us, maybe hard to see or feel but very real.

Etty Hillesum a young Jewish woman in Nazi Germany left a diary. In it she speaks of the gradual restriction of her people. From identifying themselves by wearing a star to being barred from certain areas and next to the labour camps. While there she wrote ‘ they have taken our freedom to move but they cannot take the air, the sun and moon the stars.' But they did . When in an underground chamber awaiting death she wrote ‘ they have taken the sky, the fresh air, the sun but there is something no one can take and that is 'WHAT IS IN MY HEART’. She went to her death singing and encouraging her companions.

Nothing and nobody can take from us what is in our heart

And we too are called to be the channels through which this love and encouragement comes to others.


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