The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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November 2, 2001 Issue
Foundations of Faith

God writes straight
with our crooked lines

Out of our flaws, God writes story of salvation history


Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

"What can I do? I'm just one person." "I'm just a kid." "I'm gettting old, you know."

Sometimes we feel small and helpless. Things seem too enormous for us. Today, problems of global proportion face us; tragedies of staggering numbers surround us.

Yet, as followers of Christ, we are called to announce the Good News, to proclaim that God's Kingdom continues to break into our world.

Sometimes we feel like Zaccheus in this Sunday's Gospel (Lk 19:1-10) -- too small to see what is going on; too short to catch the great events passing by -- much less able to do anything to change them.

Yet the message of Zaccheus tells us that we -- little, flawed, small in stature, weak in power -- can still be used by God to bring about the Kingdom.

There is an old Portugese saying to the effect that "God writes straight with crooked lines."

The divine plan for salvation is a straight, unchanging line leading us, through Christ, to perfection with God. But God -- Father, Son and Spirit -- in infinite and unfathomable wisdom brings about that perfect salvation through very imperfect means: us. As sacramental theologian Fr. Nicholas Halligan, OP, said, "The Father begins the work of salvation in us and brings it to perfection. If we do anything, it is only because he does it in us."

Through the events of salvation history, we see God at work, writing salvation's story through the crooked lines of human history.

• Abraham, our father in faith. Genesis 21 tells us that Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah 90 (Gn 18), when their only son Isaac was born. Both were old and frail, well past their productive ages. Yet, as pointed out in Heb 6:11, "there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore."

• Jacob, father of the tribes of Israel. Jacob did not start well in life. He stole his brother's birthright (Gn 27) and then ran off with his father-in-law's family and goods (Gn 30 and 31). But, in the end, Jacob mended his relations with both Laban and Esau, even risking his life by facing his brother alone (Gn 33).

• David, the greatest king of Israel, "a man after God's own heart" (1Sm 13:14). Yet David showed his human flaws, committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband, Uriah, killed (2Sm 11). Yet, when David repented, God fulfilled the promise to establish David's throne forever.

These people were Jesus' ancestors. And don't forget the women in his family tree: Tamar, who tricked Judah into fathering her twin sons; Rahab, the harlot, who saved Joshua's spies in the conquest of Jericho (Jos 2:1-18). Even Sarah laughed when God promised her a son (Gn 18:12).

Then there were Jesus' followers. They found many crooked lines in their lives too:

• Peter, big and good-hearted, sometimes at a loss for words, at others times, saying just the wrong thing. (Remember, "Get behind me Satan?") He even denied Jesus on that fateful night. But Peter ran to the tomb to learn the unimaginable truth and then -- three times -- declared his love for Christ.

• Paul (still called Saul), on fire for his faith, "persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it" (Gal 1:11). He had to be struck blind before he saw salvation's straight lines. But then to him, "the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8).

And lest we think God's chosen ones, the crooked lines with which he writes straightly, have it easy even as they follow God's will, recall Paul's words to the Corinthians: "a thorn in the flesh was given to me... Three times I begged the Lord about this that it might leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness'" (2Cor 12:7-9).

Divine power is made perfect in weakness. Crooked lines are made straight. A chief tax collector, the most despised of "governmental thieves," vows to give back anything he has wrongfully taken and more. And what happens? "Today, salvation has come to this house ... for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

Are we small like Zaccheus? Proud like Paul? Weak like David? Frail like Abraham? Old like Sarah? Doubting like Thomas?

Each of us has crooked lines. Zaccheus teaches us that crooked lines can be made straight. All we must do is be willing to offer ourselves to God's hand.

As Pope John Paul said in a homily on Zaccheus: "Thanks to the closeness of Jesus, of his words and of his teaching, this man's heart begins to be transformed... This opening of the heart in the encounter with Christ is a pledge of salvation... And just as he once did with Zaccheus, so at this moment Christ stands before the men and women of our age. He seems to say to each person individually: "I must stay at your house today" (June 9, 1999).

Zaccheus, a little man, despised by others, faced the enormity of all salvation offered to him. Overjoyed, he climbed down from his crooked tree limb and came straight home to salvation.


(Sources: Vatican web site at www.vatican.va; The New American Bible; The Sacraments and Their Celebration)


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