Saturday, February 1, 2014

"Today... Salvation Has Come to This House" (A Brief Homily on Luke 19:1-10

"Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;  for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  (Luke 19:1-10)

What a fascinating thing that was happening to Zacchaeus! The Lord, Jesus Christ was passing by through the gates of his own city! Imagine that... Christ was coming to Jericho; the city which was captured by the army of the Israelites centuries before when the walls that were once impenetrable, crumbled and fell down before the resounding of the horns of the advancing troops.  Here is where love has come to greet all who would recognize it and come.

Zacchaeus heard the call. He was most likely curious to meet this traveling teacher who had reportedly done wonders and said many wise things. This teacher had confounded the Pharisees with their own sayings and performed miracles within sight of many witnesses. Zacchaeus' heart was kindled toward meeting this incredible man who was now coming towards his town. You see, Zacchaeus was a tax-collector, a publican. Not only was he a tax-collector, reviled by his kinsmen and those whom he had to deal with, but he was the chief tax-collector. He was held in even lower esteem than most. Surely, if this Jesus could perform miracles, then perhaps He could perform a miracle in his life. 

"And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way."

Such eagerness for a man of great sinfulness to run to meet Jesus.  Such haste and trouble Zacchaeus went through to see him. Why the rush? Perhaps if he thought like many modern day Christians did today, he would be more casual about seeing the Christ.  Perhaps he would have the idea that he could catch Him the next time He came through or perhaps just stand at a distance and not be too obvious or conspicuous. Lord knows that there are many today who feel this way. Perhaps we are; like Zacchaeus, only too aware of our sinfulness but in a way very much unlike Zacchaeus, we are not in any hurry to come to terms with it. Perhaps we might be hedging our bets regarding our sinful behavior and feel that we'll take care of it sometime later; perhaps even on our death-beds. Such thinking is most dangerous, though.

Do not deceive yourself, foolish worker, as if one time can make up for another. For the day is not sufficient to repay in full its own debt to the Lord. St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent

Upon climbing the tree, we find that Jesus has passed near and looks up at Zacchaeus and tells him, 

Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.

Zacchaeus is discovered! Perhaps in his eagerness, he got more than he bargained for. After all, Zacchaeus only wanted to "see" Jesus did he not?  Now all was laid bare and Jesus was to dine with him, the chief tax-collector that very evening!  What shall he do? 

He did as his heart led him to do. He prepared a place of honor for Jesus at his house. His abode that was thought to be unclean and unworthy for a holy man to enter into. The priests and even the scribes would not enter into such a den of iniquity.  How often do we believe our own hearts are too "unclean" to be the abode of the Christ?  How often do we look at ourselves and think we are too far gone to ever be loved by God? It did not deter Zacchaeus. Here was a very remarkable event happening to him and he made haste to eagerly make Jesus feel welcome and at home. Why is it that we tarry and procrastinate when Christ has made us the same invitation?  Why do we wait? 

You see... to invite Christ inside we must be ready to throw away that which has long separated us from Him. He have to discard the relative comfort that we invariably develop from getting cozy with our own sinfulness. Christ's offer to dwell within the abode of our heart is an offer to discard that which has darkened and soiled it in the first place. What host allows an honored guest to come into a dirty home? Zacchaeus saw this and when Christ had come and dined with him, he decided to clean the slate and make amends, not only by words but in deeds...

"Even if all spiritual fathers, patriarchs, hierarchs, and all the people forgive you, you are unforgiven if you don’t repent in action." St Kosmas Aitolos

Herein lies the rub. Lip service is nothing. We are to be a people of action. There is no forgiveness without earnest repentance and to be earnest, it must be an active repentance as in a race that is being run and not simply speaking of a race that has already been run. Zacchaeus put his words to action and Christ saw the intent of his heart. For this, Salvation came home to Zacchaeus and dwelt with him. Here was the fruit of Zacchaeus' haste. He came to simply see who he thought was a great teacher and came face to face with God... and salvation came home...

Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Benedict+
Monastery of the Glorious Ascension
Resaca, Georgia

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