21 - Zaccheus, Jan 21, 2018

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I Timothy 4:9-15

Luke 19:1-10

Last Sunday, the Savior heals the blind man as He is drawing near Jericho (Lk 18:35-43). This Sunday, He brings salvation to Zaccheus and his house after He has entered and passed through Jericho. The LORD is on a journey. He announced to His disciples: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and all that has been written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be completed or finished (telesthesetai – the same word He utters from the Cross). He will be given over (Eucharistic language) to the Gentiles. They will kill Him; and, on the Third Day, He will rise again.”

Jesus is the WORD of the LORD who egeneto – who came to be or who happened – to the prophets, not as the vocalization of a thought or idea, but as a vision of an event yet to come (rema; cf. Lk 18:34), which the prophet conveyed often by acting it out. This is the WORD who came to be flesh and dwelt among us. His birth of the Holy Virgin, His Baptism in the Jordan, His death and Resurrection are the event that the WORD of the LORD who came to be to the prophets was all about.

Many of the Gospel stories – including last Sunday’s, to which this morning’s is a sequel – are introduced by this “egeneto: it happened, it came to be, it came to pass, leaving me to wonder if the Evangelists are meaning to say that the events that came to be in the life of Christ were the unfolding of the event seen by the prophets in the WORD of the LORD that happened to them.

This is why I see this journey of the LORD “up to Jerusalem” as more than a journey. It is “the Cause of all things, through the profusion of His intense love, going out of Himself, spell-bound as it were by goodness, love and longing, relinquishing His utter transcendence” (Philo II, 281) in order to abide”, as He says to Zaccheus, in our home”, or in the temple of our heart. This journey of the LORD “up to Jerusalem” is the event seen by the prophets in the vision of the WORD of the LORD that happened to them. But, the Church is the Body of this WORD of the LORD who came to be flesh. In the mystery of Christ’s Body, the Church, this journey of the LORD up to Jerusalem is happening, in a hidden way, here and now, in you!

May we therefore say that hidden in Zaccheus climbing the sycamore tree seeking to see Jesus is your climbing the steps to come into the Church this morning. Zaccheus had no idea that, in climbing the sycamore to see Jesus, he was drawing near the path of the eternal mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha. So also, you may have come this morning having no clue that in the worship of the Orthodox Church, you draw near the changeless path of the eternal mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha, the mystery of “Christ in you!”

The real drama in this morning’s Gospel is hidden, for it is happening in Zaccheus’ soul. But, it brings to light the paschal drama of the WORD of God happening in us. The WORD of God who is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, draws near and looks up at us and calls to our heart: “Come down! It is necessary for me to abide in your house today.” It is necessary: this refers to the WORD that came to be to the prophets. Its content is the LORD’s Cross and Holy Resurrection (e.g. Lk 24:44). Your “house” is the “tomb of your heart” (St Macarius), the “house of Sheol” (Prov 7:27) where we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1), which, according to the WORD of the prophets, He would descend into and illumine with the life-creating and healing brilliance of His uncreated Glory.

I pray we would see the inner drama hidden in this morning’s Gospel, the inner drama happening in our soul, though it may be hidden to us because of our hardness of heart! It is the drama of the soul beholding the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight: that mystical point where the soul, shall we say, is “small of stature”, a powerless wraith who longs to pass over into the Light and Life of the New Day of the LORD, but can’t. She is always falling back into the gloomy darkness of the old day, back into the gloomy prison of a lonely nothingness.

“It is necessary”, the LORD says to Zaccheus. Many times He says to His disciples: “It is necessary that the Son of Man suffer and die and rise on the Third Day!” So, do you see the meaning hidden in the LORD’s word to Zaccheus: “It is necessary?” The LORD is calling Zaccheus from the eternal mystery of His Cross!

It says that Zaccheus came down with joy, and that he stood and said: “Lo, I give half my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” Can you see how Zaccheus’ repentance is the spontaneous compulsion of his joy! It is a concrete form of denying himself and losing his life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. Can you feel in this joy his love for the Savior engendering in him a longing to repent, to deny himself, to lose his life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel?

St Isaac of Nineveh says somewhere: “In the light of the divine, we see our sins.” It seems to me that we are right to say that the light of God shines most brilliantly in a hidden way (cf. Col 1:26), i.e. in the heart (cf. II Cor 4:6), from His Cross, when He bows His head and says: “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30) “All that was written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man is finished (tetelestai)!” (Lk 18:31)

See how this Gospel places us this morning already at the Matins of Great and Holy Friday (sung on Great and Holy Thursday evening), “looking up” at the LORD on His Tree! This inner drama of Zaccheus’ repentance – proceeding spontaneously from the joy and love for the Savior that baptized his soul when he beheld the love of God in the Face of Jesus Christ, shining with inexpressible brilliance from the “it is necessary,” the eternal mystery of His Cross – this is the path of Great Lent “going up to Jerusalem” with the Savior through Jericho, our soul. See how this path goes from the vision of the love of God shining forth from the mystery of His Cross, set before us in the prophetic and apostolic WORD, to our own participation in the mystery of His Cross through a repentance made concrete, incarnate in the cross, the ascetic disciplines, we take up in Great Lent.

The liturgical worship of the Church is centered on Holy Eucharist. “As often as you do this, you proclaim the Savior’s death,” (I Cor 11:26); you proclaim the inexpressible love of God who came into the world to save sinners. In Holy Eucharist shines the light of God St Isaac speaks of. It is the love of God who came into the world not to judge or to condemn us, but to save us: to heal us and to deliver us from hell. Seeing Him on the Cross, we see how He emptied Himself to share in our flesh and blood that He might come to be one with us in His own death on the Cross (Phil 2:5; Heb 2:14-15). He was wounded for our transgressions, says the prophet, Isaiah; so it is that our wounds are healed by His wounds. He Himself became a corpse; so it is that by His death He has destroyed our death. He makes our heart into a bridal chamber, our death into the death of the law of sin which is embodied in us (Rom 6:6 & 7:23), and the way by which we become one with Him (Jn 17:21-23) to pass over with Him into eternal life as, children of God (Ps 81:6; Jn 1:13), partakers of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4), the WORD of God Himself living and abiding in us as we live and abide in His love (Jn 15:4-16).

And this, we learn from the Church, is to be restored to our original beauty! In this mystery, we become who we really are! When the soul beholds in the vision of the apostolic and prophetic WORD the inexpressible humility and compassion of God shining forth from His Cross, does she not long to be cleansed, to be healed and belong to this Christ who ascended the Cross in His love for her? But, she is “short of stature”! She is feeble and weak, she has no strength, so little courage, she doesn’t know how to repent!

But, the Church, the Bride of Christ, comes to her in the love of the Mother for her Son and of the Son for His Mother, and gives voice to the soul’s longing: “O My Savior, I see Thy Bridal Chamber adorned, but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, make radiant the garment of my soul and save me!” In the mystery of the LORD’s Holy Cross, His “it is necessary!” she gives to us Great Lent. Great Lent is the way of repentance the soul longs for who has seen her sins in the light of God’s love. Great Lent is the Church guiding us in the way of repentance up to Jerusalem to be united with our LORD, God and Savior in the likeness of His death and Resurrection, restored to our original beauty as children of God, partakers of the divine nature. O LORD, glory to Thee! Amen!