In today’s Gospel (Luke 19:1-10), we see Jesus reach out to Zacchaeus. Because he was a tax collector, collecting taxes for the Romans, he was despised by the Jews. In fact, when Jesus says that He will go to Zacchaeus’ house, the people say, “He has gone to a sinner’s house.” Jesus announces: “The Son of Man has come to search out and save what was lost” (Lk 19:10).
Jesus’ action is a demonstration of God’s love as it is described by the Book of Wisdom. Because we dismiss some people and think they are useless, we assume God thinks the same.
The Book of Wisdom assures us that God’s love for us is always there: “You love all things that are and loathe nothing that You have made; for what You hated, You would not have fashioned, and how could a thing remain, unless You willed it or be preserved had it not been called forth by You. But You spare all things, because they are Yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for Your imperishable spirit is in all things” (Ws 11:24-12:1).
If God didn’t care for us we would not exist. The great Greek philosopher, Aristotle (d. 322 B.C.), taught that God is the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover. For Aristotle, God is the one who begins the process and lets a chain of causes and movers proceed.
St Thomas Aquinas agrees that everything is caused by something else. In a similar way, everything has been caused by something else. Thomas, however, thinks that God not only initiates the first motion or causes the first thing to be caused at the beginning of creation but God is present and causes each thing to come into existence: “Since it is God’s nature to exist, He it must be who properly causes existence in creatures” (Summa Theologiae, 1a 8, 1). Thomas means not only that God started bringing things into existence at some point but that God is actually bringing this particular person or thing into existence here and now.
Not only does God bring each thing into existence but He preserves each thing in existence: “God is causing this effect in things not just when they begin to exist, but all the time they are maintained in existence” (Summa Theologiae, 1a. 8, 1).
Furthermore, God is intimately present with what He has brought into existence: “Existence is more intimately and profoundly interior to things than anything else … So God must exist and exist intimately in everything” (Summa Theologiae, 1a. 8, 1).
Why does God give existence or being to things? Thomas draws upon a principle of an early theologian Dionysius (d. c. 500): “Goodness is self-diffusive,” “Goodness wants to give itself.” Thomas affirms: “The communication of being and goodness arises from goodness. This is evident from the very nature and definition of the good… God is the cause of being for other things. God is, therefore, truly good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 37).
Because God is the source not only of being but also of goodness, Thomas can say: “God is not only good but He is goodness itself.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 38).
God’s goodness is total: since “God is goodness” then God cannot have “non-goodness”: “There cannot, therefore, be any non-goodness in Him. Thus, there cannot possibly be evil in God” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 39).
God chooses the good always: “God is the highest good. But the highest good cannot bear any mingling with evil, as neither can the highest hot thing bear any mingling with the cold. The divine will, therefore, cannot be turned to evil… God naturally stands abiding in the good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 95).
God is quite simple: God is good, He creates good things. He keeps them in being and He does good things.
God is not only good but God wants the good of each thing, which is to be as He has created it: “God wills the good of each thing according as it is the good of each thing; for He wills each thing to be according as it is in itself good” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 91).
God wants to be united with each thing: “God moves all things to union, for in so far as He gives them being and other perfections, He joins them to Himself in the manner in which this is possible. God, therefore, loves Himself and other things” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 91).
Thomas maintains that everything reflects the one who made it: “Since every agent intends to introduce its likeness into its effect, in the measure that its effect can receive it, the agent does this the more perfectly as it is the more perfect itself; obviously, the hotter a thing is, the hotter its effect, and the better the craftsman, the more perfectly does he put into matter the form of his art” (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45)
Just as all things have being from God so all things participate in God’s goodness: “Nothing, then, will be called good except in so far as it has a certain likeness of the divine goodness” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 40).
God wills that everything shares in His goodness: “The will of God is directed to things other than Himself, in so far as, by willing and loving His own being and His own goodness, God wills it to be diffused as much as possible through the communication of likeness. This, then, is what God wills in other things, that there be in them the likeness of His goodness. But this is the good of each thing, namely, to participate in the likeness of God; for every other goodness is nothing other than a certain likeness of the first goodness. Therefore, God wills good to each thing. Hence, He hates nothing” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 96).
It is impossible for God to stop loving what He has created: “But all agents in their own way love their effects as such: thus, parents love their children, poets their poetry, and artists their works. All the more, then, does God not hate anything, since He is the cause of all things” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 96).
The reason why there are so many different things is that no one can reflect God but each reflects God in its own way: “By the fact that the active power is actualized the effect receives the likeness of the agent. Hence, there would not be a perfect likeness of God in the universe if all things were of one grade of being. For this reason, then, is there distinction among created things: that, by being many, they may receive God’s likeness more perfectly than by being one” (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45). If God produced only one type of the thing, His likeness would not be completely reflected.
A thing especially resembles God when it can produce good in other things: “A thing approaches to God’s likeness the more perfectly as it resembles Him in more things. Now, goodness is in God, and the outpouring of goodness into other things. Hence, the creature approaches more perfectly to God’s likeness if it is not only good, but can also act for the good of other things, than if it were good only in itself; that which both shines and casts light is more like the sun than that which only shines” (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45).
Thomas is saying that we are more like God if we are able to pour out goodness to others.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, OP