I ask that question somewhat rhetorically since I can imagine the answer for most of us is “not often”. We have a tendency to focus on the immediate things in front of us and so things that seem more abstract, like the love of God, don’t come to the forefront of our attention. And sometimes, surrounded by our problems or the suffering that we see in the world, we question – maybe even doubt – just how much God’s love really is there.
If that’s the case, then I think it’s good that we take a look back at the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom. It’s a reflection upon the mystery of our relationship with God and his love for us. Let’s do a little exegesis – or critical reading – of the text.
“Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
That is, the entire universe – the myriad numbers of galaxies and solar systems, and the whole earth, with all of us upon it – is, compared to God, nothing more than a speck, a drop of dew on the grass. God is infinitely greater and grander than anything we could possibly imagine.
“But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.”
Though all of creation is almost as nothing compared to God, that doesn’t mean he treats us as nothing – in fact, just the opposite. Because God is so infinitely greater than us, his approach to us is always one of infinite love and mercy. His love for us is contingent upon nothing – because he doesn’t need us for anything, everything he gives to us is purely given out of love for us and for the desire of our own true good. He is a merciful Father, a loving Creator.
"And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?"
At every moment of our lives, God is willing us – indeed, the entire universe – into being. If he were to stop for even the briefest moment, we wouldn’t simply die – we and all of creation would simply cease to be. And yet, that doesn’t happen. So God continues to be focused on us completely, in pure love, though we are as small to him as a grain or a drop of dew is to us. One last part:
"But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!"
In other words, God does all of this – loving us, willing us into being – despite the fact that we are sinners. Though we so often reject him by our actions, he is patient and merciful with us. He gently reminds us of our sinfulness – especially by means of our conscience – and calls us to repentance, so that we might return to him.
So God does indeed love us, infinitely and mercifully, and yet the story doesn’t end there. The love by which God created us, the love with which he sustains us in being and calls us to repentance with gentleness – it is with that same love that God desired even to become one of us, to walk among us, to seek out and save we who were lost. The love that God has for us is none other than Jesus himself, who encountered Zacchaeus in Jericho, who encounters each of us every day, in various ways, especially here in the Eucharist.
Jesus Summoning Zacchaeus, William Brassey Hole (c. 1900)
If we view God’s love in that way, if we see that his love has a face – that of Jesus himself – then we will be changed as Zacchaeus was changed. We will begin to live always in the joy that God’s love for us indeed infinite, merciful, life-giving, but even more than that – it is relational, it is has a name and a face, it is a Person himself.
Friends, whether we think often of it or not, the love of God for us is real – it is creative, transformative, merciful, and personal. Like Zacchaeus, let us seek to encounter that love anew – to climb over any obstacles keeping us from it, and not to grow tired, or distracted, or discouraged by the opinion of others as we seek it. Instead, let us focus on Jesus, the love of God made incarnate, he who wishes to encounter us, who wishes to stay with us, who has come to seek out and to save what was lost.