|22 - Zaccheus Sunday, Jan 29, 2017 (with audio)|
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I Timothy 4:9-15
I have pointed out how the LORD’s baptism in the Jordan gathers into itself the whole of the Exodus, which began with the crossing of the Red Sea and ended with the crossing of the Jordan into the “Promised Land”. The LORD’s baptism in the Jordan, then, shows the Gospel beginning where Israel’s Exodus leaves off.
Rising from the Jordan, the LORD is led by the Spirit not into the Promised Land, as was Israel, but into the wilderness, just as Israel, when she came up from the Red Sea, was led into the wilderness by the Spirit in the form of a fiery pillar and a radiant cloud. But, the Promised Land, which is the destination of the LORD’s Exodus, is not Canaan but the Kingdom of Heaven, revealed in the opening of the heavens when He rose from the Jordan; and, the Kingdom of Heaven, the LORD says in St Luke (17:21) is within you. In His Baptism, the liturgical texts tell us, “The LORD…makes haste to bear creation down into the stream, bringing it to a better and changeless Path”, which was prefigured by the Israelites crossing “over on a narrow piece of dry land” (an icon of the narrow path that leads to heaven (Mt 7:14) in the depths of the sea (Festal Menaion, p. 377). “By descending into the water” – at our baptism, by submitting our will in obedience to Christ in Faith – “we ascend to God” (FM, 383). I.e., the destination of the LORD’s Exodus is not of geography or history. It’s not “outward and visible” or “earthly”. It’s “inwardly understood” (FM 383); i.e., it’s spiritual or heavenly, eternal.
So, when He descends into the Jordan, the LORD bears the outward and visible or earthly Exodus of Israel down into another dimension, a heavenly dimension that is within the human soul, to work His salvation in the midst of the earth (Ps 74:12); i.e. in the heart in the midst of the body. In both the Exodus of Israel and in the LORD’s Baptism at the Jordan there are certain indications that tie all of this to creation. The salvation He works in the midst of the earth, in the heart, is the creation in us a of a new heart and raising us to life in a new spirit, the Holy Spirit.
When the LORD “gave up the Spirit” – the Holy Spirit – on the Cross, the curtain of the temple, which represents the heavens, was torn in two. Moreover, it says that when the LORD “sent forth the Spirit” on the Cross, the tombs were opened and the bodies of the saint who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming forth from the tombs (cf. Eze 37:12) after His Resurrection, they entered into the Holy City (Mat 27:52-53) – the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Heb 12:22 & Rev 21:10). The opening of the heavens at His Baptism in the Jordan, corresponding with the opening of the curtains at His death on the Cross, shows that the Sea of the LORD’s “inward” Exodus is the tomb or death, and that His Exodus comes to its rest, its Sabbath, in Heaven, in eternal life.
This theological vision set forth in Holy Scripture shows the LORD’s earthly sojourn from the Jordan to Golgotha as the outward and visible face of the inward Exodus into the Sea, the Tomb of the human heart that opens beyond all things (Jer 17:5/9 LXX) out onto the mystery of God that is Christ in you (Col 1:27) and into the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you. And, indeed, St Luke’s Gospel shows the movement of the LORD’s ministry to be one long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. (cf. Lk 9:51: “When the days drew near…He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”) And, note that His journey does not end in Jerusalem. He is taken outside the city where He is crucified, and then the stone the builders rejected is laid in the tomb to become the cornerstone of the Heavenly Temple, the crucified and risen Body of Christ, the Church, whose foundation is in the tomb, even in hell; and even yet, His journey does not end until the risen LORD ascends from the mountain outside the city and comes to rest on His Throne in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the theological setting of the LORD’s inward Exodus, we contemplate this Gospel of Zaccheus, which announces to us that our Lenten journey to the LORD’s saving Tomb outside the city is just around the bend. For the last three Sundays following Theophany, our Gospel readings have been from St Luke and they have shown the LORD drawing near to Jericho, which is in the valley by the Jordan, at the base of the foothills that rise to the mountain atop which Jerusalem sits. This morning, the LORD has entered the city of Jericho and is passing through it. He is about to turn to the west onto path that will take Him up into the hills and to Jerusalem. This is where, and when, He comes upon Zaccheus.
Zaccheus was rich, it says. He got his riches as a tax collector, defrauding people. In biblical terms, he was an idolater, living in Jericho as a slave to the idols of his covetousness as the Israelites lived in Egypt as slaves to Pharaoh, or as I and maybe you live in our soul as slaves to the passions of gluttony, lust, greed, anger, vanity, pride.
On this Sunday of Zaccheus, then, as the LORD passes through Jericho, which is by the Jordan, and turns to the west to make His way up to Jerusalem and to His Cross outside the city, may we say that mystically, inwardly, we, having followed the LORD from the Jordan, can be like the Israelites when they made their way out of Egypt and setup camp in Othom by the wilderness, between Magdol and the Sea (Ex 13:20 – 14:1). They were preparing to cross the Red Sea, which was before them, but when they looked up, it says, they saw Pharaoh and his armies encamped behind them, ready to take them back to slavery in Egypt, and they were afraid. On this Sunday, the Church has brought us to Jericho by the Jordan as the Israelites were by the Red Sea. With the story of Zaccheus, she turns our face inward to see the idols of our lust and covetousness that have been our masters and still would be. Before us is the Lenten Fast that would lead us up to Jerusalem and to the Cross and inwardly into the tomb of our heart and out into the Kingdom of Heaven in the freedom and joy of the LORD’s Holy Resurrection and Ascension. Behind us is the Pharaoh of our idolatry and all his hosts and all his pride seeking to draw us back into spiritual slavery. The Angel of the LORD, it says, moved from the front to the back of the camp with the pillar of the cloud and stood between Israel and Pharaoh’s armies, and there was darkness and blackness (Ex 14:19-20) so that they were protected from Pharaoh. Behind us, is the Jordan and the radiant Cloud (as liturgical texts call her) of the Theotokos and the mystery of the Incarnation.
Moses says to Israel: “Take courage, stand and see the salvation the LORD will work for us today. The LORD will fight for you. You be silent.” (Ex 14:13) The LORD says to Zaccheus: “Today I must come to abide in your house!” I.e., the hour is at hand. He is going up to Jerusalem and into the temple of your body. The LORD will fight for you. Don’t be afraid. Only be silent – don’t listen to or trust the wisdom of your own opinion, but listen to the WORD of the Church and trust yourself to the Precious Cross of the LORD, and see with the eyes of your soul the LORD working His salvation for you today in the midst of the earth, in the Red Sea, i.e., in the tomb of your heart.
It says that Moses stretched forth his hand over the Sea and in the course of the night, a south wind made the sea dry and the water was divided and Israel went into the midst of the sea as on dry ground, and the water was a wall on the right and on the left”. (Ex 14:21-22). On Great and Holy Friday, darkness will descend on the land, and the LORD, our Moses, will stretch out His hand on the Cross. He will “send forth His Spirit” and He will divide the Sea of death to reveal the “better and changeless path that ascends to God”. Those who follow Him as their King, will descend into the tomb of their heart to find the Living Waters of the Jordan as a wall on their right and on their left and they will ascend to God, seeing their pursuer drowned in the sea, their death made to be the destruction of death and the tomb of their heart the bridal chamber where they are made perfectly one with the Bridegroom in the Joy of His eternal life. Amen!