|21 - Zaccheus' Conversion. Image of Resurrection, Feb 10, 2019|
1 Timothy 4:9-15
“I give half of all my goods to the poor,” says Zaccheus, “and if I defrauded anyone, I will restore him fourfold!” Zaccheus was a tax collector. Tax collectors were despised because they were notoriously dishonest. They were like mobsters, collecting through extortion or intimidation more than the law required to line their own purses. We can assume, therefore, that the number of those Zaccheus defrauded was not small. And so, I’m looking at the mathematics of Zaccheus’ oath. It seems to me that Zaccheus’ money would run out long before he had fulfilled his oath to the LORD. But, I’m thinking that this is precisely the point. It should have run out, but it didn’t.
Zaccheus’ oath, which most assuredly effected financial ruin, was in effect a baptismal oath: to deny himself, to lose his life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, to unite himself to Christ in the likeness of His death. That his oath ended not in financial ruin but in inexhaustible riches is an image of the riches of Christ’s resurrection that flow inexhaustibly from the Tomb of His Holy Pascha, His Sabbath Rest, in those who unite themselves to Him in the likeness of His death.
I’m thinking this is why the Church sets Zaccheus before us on this the Sunday before we begin the Lenten Triodion. The joy of Zaccheus’ conversion is not of this world; it is a joy the world cannot take away. It flows like an artesian river from the boundless riches of the LORD Jesus Christ’s Holy Pascha. His voluntary impoverishment gave concrete form to the joy of his conversion, the joy that comes from finding oneself in the sweet presence of the LORD Jesus. And, the miracle of the inexhaustible wealth that flows from his voluntary impoverishment is an image of the wealth of the LORD’s grace which He makes ever to increase abundantly in those who do His will (Eph 1:7-8).
The story of Zaccheus sets before us the boundless joy and the inexhaustible wealth of eternal life that awaits us when we take up the Cross of the Church’s Lenten disciplines and set out to put to death what’s earthly in us. It is teaching us what the Lenten Exodus we are getting ready for is all about: it’s about the joy of taking up our cross, voluntarily impoverishing ourselves in the sweet presence of Christ when we receive Him into the house of our soul and body, and the longing that wells up from the depths of our soul to become one with Him, to join our death—working already in us even now every day, every hour, every minute until it is consummated in our “actual” death—with the LORD’s death. Our joy and our hope when we take up our cross, when we set out to lose our life for the sake of Christ and His Holy Gospel—that is, for the sake of His death that destroys death in the luminous Glory of His Holy Resurrection—our joy and our hope is that the life-creating energy of the LORD’s death, and not the “death-creating” energy of the lord, of this age begins to work in us so that the LORD can say of us as He said of Zaccheus: “Today, salvation has come to the house of your soul and body. Today, your healing and your deliverance from the tyranny of death has begun!”
The Lenten Triodion begins next Sunday. See, then, how the Lenten Triodion is sandwiched by the Resurrection. We set out from this story of Zaccheus’ conversion, an image of Lazarus’ Resurrection (that marks the end of Great Lent), and we end the Lenten Triodion on Great and Holy Saturday with the proclamation of Christ’s Holy Resurrection sounding forth from the Tomb of the LORD God’s Sabbath Rest!
See, then, how the path of the Lenten Exodus, the ascetic discipline of taking up our cross and working out our salvation in fear and trembling—that is, in the saving mystery of the LORD’s dread Pascha—is bathed from beginning to end in the luminous joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection! It is a joy the world cannot take away because it rises up like an inexhaustible, cascading river of life and light from within the death of God in whom death has been destroyed; or, might we say in whom death has been healed, and restored as the soul’s natural movement of love in which she ceaselessly pours herself out in a sacrifice of praise to God, and constantly receives in return the living and eternal and luminous Glory, the inexhaustible, super-abundant riches of Her Bridegroom who comes to her at Midnight, the greatly Compassionate One, the only Lover of Mankind!
The Church, then, is showing us this morning that we take up the cross of the Lenten Fast bathed in the luminous joy of Christ’s Resurrection! Let’s ponder this deeply! In that luminous joy, what desire begins to stir deep in our soul’s heart? Is it not the desire to be freed from the tyranny of our passions, to be made clean, to be made light, to be made life, to be made god in God? In this desire that begins to grow in the Light of Christ shining on us sitting in darkness, in the region and shadow of death, no one needs to tell us that our earthly riches are empty, nothing more than fig leaves covering our utter poverty. We know we are blind, we know that we are no better than a dog, that we are Pharisees, that we are the Prodigal, that we stand with the goats. We know this because we can see it, we can feel it because the Light of God’s love shining from His Tomb uncovers our soul’s utter poverty beneath the glitter of our earthly riches. But, it also uncovers our soul’s longing to receive the LORD Himself as her salvation, as her Heavenly Bridegroom who comes to her at Midnight!
Might we ponder this WORD of the Church? As we prepare for Great Lent, might we take some time to retreat from the noise of our earthly life, to descend into our soul’s depths, to touch our soul’s innate desire for God, and climb the sycamore tree that we might see Christ and so prepare ourselves to receive Him into the house of our soul and body, that we may take up our cross and follow Him all the way into His Tomb, there to become one with Him in the bridal chamber of our heart and to taste and see the joy of His Holy Pascha. Amen!