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"From a Distance" Spirituality – Where Peter Is

by · October 30, 2022
A reflection on the readings for October 30, 2022, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In 1985 I was a seminarian. I wanted to be a priest who celebrated the Mass reverently and preached the gospel meaningfully, but there was more. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to end hunger, work for world peace, and see all humanity as one. And I am still that way. I am an idealist.
It was at the peak of my seminary life in 1991 that I heard a song that spelled out my idealism. It was written and composed by Julie Gold in 1985 and first sung by Nancy Griffith on the David Letterman Show. In 1991, sung by Bette Midler, it won the Grammy. You have probably guessed it by now – it’s “From a Distance.” Even today when I hear the words:
From a distance, we all have enough
And no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no diseases
No hungry mouths to feed
From a distance, we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They’re the songs of every man.
I well up with tears.
There is a huge part of me that wants us all to live in peace, eliminate hunger, and simply treat each other with dignity. I believe that if we can all get the big picture, if we can all see things “from a distance”—from God’s eyes—the world and the Church can be the Reign of God.
Today’s first reading from Wisdom invites us to look at the world through God’s eyes—even “from a distance.” Wisdom says, “Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth” (Wis 11:22). This tells us how God sees the universe. Furthermore, Wisdom says that God has mercy on all; that God overlooks people’s sins that they might repent; that God loves all things that are and loathes nothing that God has created; that everything that remains or exists is by God’s will and all that is preserved is called forth by God; that God rebukes offender little by little, giving people a chance to abandon wickedness and believe. And this is the part that touches my soul the most: “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”
Our God is a “big picture” kind of God. God looks at us from a distance and sees us differently than we see ourselves. This does not mean that God is distant from us. The Incarnation tells us differently. The point is that if we learn to look at the world with God’s eyes, our entire perspective will change.
I would like to interpret Zacchaeus’s story from the “big picture” or “from a distance” perspective. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was short of stature. But his perspective changed when he climbed a tree. He sees life from a distance. He sees Jesus. He sees other people. He sees his faults, his injustices, and his sins. He sees everything differently.
Luke also gives us a peek into those who could not get see the big picture. They complained against Jesus saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
We have all seen spectacular images of the earth taken from space. Everything that God created is immensely beautiful, including every human person. And by looking at everything with God’s eyes, we should see each other and the world the way God sees them. Looking at the world from a distance, we can be a people of mercy. We can overlook other people’s faults. We can cherish and protect our beautiful earth, just as God does. We can learn to love all that exists and is preserved because we know they exist and are preserved by God’s will. We can be less judgmental and give people a chance as God does. Most of all, we can recognize God’s imperishable spirit in all things and treat the universe, life, the world, and everything in it with a sense of immense sacredness.
“Big Picture Perspective” can be a spirituality. “From a Distance” can be a Christian disciple’s lifestyle. But to develop this kind of spirituality, like Zacchaeus, we must be willing to climb the tree and look at the world from the big-picture perspective. To develop this spirituality, we must be willing, like God, to see the world from a distance.
In the final analysis, Zacchaeus’s story is a story of salvation. It ends with Jesus declaring, “Today, salvation has come to this house!” I want to argue that Zacchaeus’s story gives us a “big picture” understanding of salvation.
There are two dimensions to salvation. Our personal salvation begins with an encounter with Christ. Salvation is inviting Christ into our lives, our homes. Salvation is turning over our lives to Christ. But that is only one part of the story.
There is an entire social dimension of salvation. Zacchaeus’s story teaches us that salvation is not only about our relationship with God but also with others. From the top of the tree, from a distance, Zacchaeus not only saw Jesus, but he also saw the people of his society differently. Thus far he had been oppressing them. But encountering Christ had social implications. Zacchaeus must stop exploiting and oppressing the masses. He must right the wrong and repair the harm he had done. Zacchaeus recognized this. He publicly announced, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” It is only then that Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house!” Only now is Zacchaeus saved!
Salvation is a personal event, but it is equally a communal event. It is not enough to enter into communion with Jesus, but we must also accept every person in God’s world as our brother and sister. Oppression, inequality, and injustice must cease. Wrong must be made right and the harm we have done to the life and dignity of the human person must be repaired. Remember,
From a distance, we are instruments
Marching in a COMMON BAND
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They’re the songs of every man.
Today, at Mass, there is a paradox unfolding for us. The God who watches us from a distance is with us on the altar. Let us receive Him and look at the world and each other with God’s eyes. Amen.
Image Credit: Photo by Bhavya Pratap Photography on Unsplash
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.
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