21 - Zaccheus Sunday, Jan 17, 2010

I Timothy 4:9-15

Luke 19:1-10

Today, we come to the Sunday of Zaccheus. Next Sunday, we begin the Lenten Triodion. Great Lent itself begins four Sundays from now. With the story of Zaccheus, I see the Church announcing to us the goal of Great Lent. It is to get ourselves ready to receive Jesus into our house as Zaccheus did and to be saved – to be healed in the inner man and to be delivered from smallness of heart.

One notes how St Luke describes Zaccheus as both very rich and very small – in the Greek, Zaccheus is micro small. It’s as though St Luke is saying that Zaccheus was so small in stature because he was so rich; his heart was consumed by selfishness and greed, making him indifferent to the plight of those he was defrauding as a tax-collector. Thus, his riches, which he had got by greed and no doubt by force and extortion, are what made him so small; so small, in fact, so St Luke says, that “he was unable to see the Lord.”

This last week, for our assigned Scripture reading, we read from St James: “Adulterers and adulteresses!” This is how he addresses his readers, which means he is addressing us who are reading him – not just his readers of 2,000 years ago – as adulterers and adulteresses. “Do you not know,” he says to us whom he calls adulterers and adulteresses, “that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”[1]

So, let us stop and look at ourselves. St James is calling us adulterers and adulteresses, and he is telling us why we are adulterers and adulteresses. It’s because we are friends with the world and not with God. This doesn’t mean that the world is evil; it was created by God, after all, and it was created good. The world St James is talking about is the world that has come into being from the greed and self-love of man. This world has rejected God; it rejected Him in the Garden in the beginning; it rejected His messengers and His prophets; and finally it rejected His Son, even murdering Him on the Cross. If we are friends with this world, we are friends with those who have rejected and murdered God. We are adulterers and adulteresses because we have gone after other gods, other loves: specifically we have given our love to the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. And so, we have become small in stature and small in heart. We were created in the Image of God, i.e. in Christ; we were made to grow into the likeness of God, which is Christ. We were made to be large and tall, very large and very tall, like Christ, the Word of God by whom all things were made. We were made to be rulers of the world, to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. That is to say, we were made to rule everything according to the love of God and to subdue it, to tame it, by leading it into the love of God. But instead, we chose to reject the commandment of God, thinking we could become like God without God; i.e., we wanted to become our own gods, following after the wisdom of our own opinion. But we are not God. We are not immortal. We are made from the dust of the ground and we return to the dust of the ground. And so, when we live our lives on our own, without God, we are very small and we grow only smaller. No matter how big or tall we may grow in our body, no matter how much wealth we may accumulate, by ourselves, we are only withering away, getting smaller and smaller in our souls until finally we die, and we get so small  that we don’t even exist anymore. Our souls are but wispy wraiths, not having even the substance of a shadow.

This is not why God made us. He did not make us to become wispy wraiths while our bodies disintegrate back into the dust of the ground. He made us in His Image and in His Likeness. He made us to be partakers of His own divinity, sharers of His eternity. He made us to be like Him.

If only we weren’t so dark and blind and deaf and dumb, so ignorant of God, so ignorant of who we were created to be, so small, so micro small in stature, in soul, in heart, in our intellect. Then, we would see the Gospel, the Good News that is inherent simply in the report that Jesus was about to pass by. This Jesus is more than a wonderworker and awesome speaker: He is the Image of God in whom we were made. And He is in the flesh; He was born of a Virgin. That means He made Himself small, like us, so that He could meet us and touch us in our smallness. He is in the flesh and He is passing by on the way. This would be a spiritual way, not just a road. It would be the way of all flesh, which is the way to the tomb. The Image of God in whom we were made is making His way into the smallness and the darkness of the tomb, to find us who have gone astray, and to lead us back to the world that He made so good, and back to the Garden where He had wanted to give us Himself to partake of as the fruit of the Tree of Life, so that partaking of the mystery of His most pure body and precious blood, we who were small, so micro small, could grow and become large, so very large, like Him and become partakers of His divinity, sharers of His eternity.

Like Zaccheus, we have heard the report this morning that Christ is in our midst; and He is about to pass by this way. Let us look to ourselves and see that we are small. Let us look into our heart; let’s make ourselves aware of our soul as we stand in prayer here in the Church, and let us say honestly that our heart is not very small and very dark, like a tomb, and that our soul is not indifferent, not unfeeling toward God and the things of the Spirit, like a corpse. Let us accept the stinging indictment of St James and admit before God that we are adulterers and adulteresses because we have sought friendship with the world in its greed and self-centeredness by which it has rejected God. Let us admit this and not turn away from it, and we will have come to the starting gate of the road to repentance.

In this penitential state of mind, hear the Good News: Jesus, the Son of God, the Image of God in whom we were made, is about to pass by this way, and see if there is not a desire springing up somewhere in your inner depths to see Jesus. Now, you are getting ready for Great Lent and its ascetic disciplines.

Great Lent is our sycamore tree. It is the cross we are to take up, or if you will, to climb up onto. It is the means given to us by Christ God Himself by which we can empty ourselves of our greed and die to the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We fast with our stomachs; we fast with our eyes and with our ears, with our tongues, our hands and our feet. We are turning ourselves away from the world that has rejected God and careens madly, blindly and in utter foolishness down the broad path of destruction, oblivious to the Lord who stands in the midst of the waters of Jordan revealing in the depths of the human soul that better and changeless path to God. We are turning around, we are repenting, and setting our eyes on Christ, our mouths we are closing so our ears can hear His word. Our hands and our feet we are directing onto the path that He is walking. It is the path to Golgotha, to the tomb; and, from this morning’s Gospel, we see that the tomb is our house, our own heart, that has grown so very small. And Christ wants to go there into our smallness. And that’s what Great Lent is all about: making ourselves ready to receive Christ into our house, into the tomb and into the smallness of our heart.

We see in Zaccheus what happens when we receive Christ into the tomb of our heart. He enlarges it;[2] He opens it up onto the spaciousness of heaven and floods it with the light and joy of His Holy Spirit in His holy resurrection. Greed is washed away, the heart is enlarged and it doesn’t break. We are taken out of ourselves and we become what we truly we are: creatures made in the Image of God, made to be partakers of God and sharers of His eternity. This is the joy of Pentecost. It is the joy that is set before us here on this Sunday, as the Church makes us ready to take up our Cross and follow Christ to His Holy Pascha, so that we will be prepared to receive the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight, to be united to Him in His death that we can participate in His Holy Resurrection. It is for this joy of Christ’s Resurrection and Pentecost that believers feel joyful anticipation for Great Lent. It is a time rich in divine beauty that heals us of our smallness in the inner man. It enlarges us and opens us onto the ineffable sweetness of God’s goodness.

This morning, we have seen the joy that came to Zaccheus when he received the Lord into his house. This is the joy that awaits us if we truly want to see Jesus and climb the sycamore tree of Great Lent to hear him say to us: “Today, I am coming to your house to make you very large in heart so that you can receive Me and become a partaker of My divinity and a sharer of My eternity.” Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen.

[1] James 4:4

[2] II Cor 6:13