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Homily for 2/1/09 - Zacchaeus - the sum of the Gospel

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  • Fr David Moser
    Luuke 19: 1-10 The purpose of the law and the prophets, that is the life of the Old Testament, was to show the Hebrew people how they should live so that they
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2009
      Luuke 19: 1-10

      The purpose of the law and the prophets, that is the life of the Old
      Testament, was to show the Hebrew people how they should live so that
      they could raise themselves up to heaven. Many nations and peoples
      claimed to have gods that were great and powerful, but the Hebrews knew
      that their God was the greatest God and that there was none higher or
      more powerful than He. The law and the prophets marked the way for men
      to rise in the favor of God and climb to the lofty heights of heaven.
      This whole system of belief was played out when Jesus came to the town
      of Jericho and a tax collector named Zacchaeus came to see Him. The
      crowd was so great that Zacchaeus could not see Jesus and so he began to
      climb a tree in order to raise himself up to get to a place where he
      could see. By climbing the tree to see the God/man Jesus Christ,
      Zacchaeus symbolized the efforts of men to raise themselves up to God by
      climbing the tree of the law and the prophets. Climbing the tree,
      Zacchaeus expected to see a great man, but he could not distinguish
      Jesus from the crowd. Jesus however, as the Gospel tells us, saw
      Zacchaeus and called out to him saying, “Come down for I am coming to
      you”. Zacchaeus climbed down from the heights and ran to prepare his
      home to receive his visitor, Jesus. In this simple action – coming down
      from the tree – we see the heart of the New Testament. Ascending to
      heaven is not about climbing as high as you can with the law and the
      prophets, but rather one finds God by humbling himself. In the
      incarnation, God lowered Himself, showing for us the path of humility,
      and took flesh and became man and dwelt among us. Out of His great love
      for us, He did not demand that we fulfill the impossible task of making
      ourselves perfect in order that we might come to Him. Instead, He Who is
      Himself perfection, lowered Himself to come to us so that when we come
      to Him, He might raise us up to be with Him. This first requires,
      however, that we humble ourselves, that we give up our own efforts to be
      perfect and to raise ourselves up to heaven by our own efforts. We must
      “come down from the tree” as it were, just as Zacchaeus did, and prepare
      ourselves to receive Christ for He has come to us.

      Humility is the key of the whole Christian life. Without humility, there
      is no amount of good works which can raise us up to heaven, however, if
      we are humble, this is sufficient for God to come to us and to raise us
      up to heaven. St Isaac the Syrian tells us, “Humility, even without
      works, gains forgiveness for many offenses; but without humility works
      are of no profit to us and instead prepare for us great evils…if
      humility becomes ours, she will make us sons of God, and even without
      good works she will present us to God. For without humility all our
      works are vain …” Humility is the key to the Christian life. If we would
      be humble we must be like Zacchaeus and climb down from the tree of self
      righteousness, abandoning our own efforts to become good and righteous
      and holy and instead strive to become humble and to receive God Who will
      come to us and raise us up by His grace.

      From whence does this humility come? What must we do to become humble
      so that God will come to us and raise us up. The answer is quite simple
      and also contained in the story of Zacchaeus. First we must set aside
      our own will and instead be obedient to the will of God. Jesus told
      Zacchaeus, “Come down for I will come to you” and Zacchaeus left his
      perch in the tree, abandoning his prime viewing spot and ran to his
      house to prepare to receive his guest. He did not question Jesus
      direction, but instead left whatever doubts he might have had behind and
      immediately and enthusiastically began to follow the directions of
      Jesus. He might have thought that Jesus was trying to get rid of him, to
      make a fool of him for why would such a holy man come to the home of a
      tax collector? “If I leave this spot in the tree,” he might have
      thought, “then I will never see Jesus again, but will sit at home
      waiting for someone who will never arrive.” But if Zacchaeus had such
      thoughts, he set them aside and chose instead to obey Christ. This is as
      our Lord instructs us in the Gospel, “whoever would come after me, let
      him deny himself…” Here we see the example that Zacchaeus denied
      himself, his own will, his own logic, his own doubts and his own efforts
      and instead obeyed Christ and prepared to receive Him.

      When Jesus came to Zacchaeus, there was great joy for Zacchaeus
      obedience was fulfilled by the presence of Christ in his home. But what
      did Zacchaeus see when he was face to face with Jesus. We have a hint
      when we consider how Zacchaeus reacted to Jesus arrival. He declared
      immediately that he would give half of all that he had to the poor and
      that he would repay every man that he had defrauded four times as much
      as he had taken. Such repentance is the next step in acquiring humility.
      When we stand before God we see ourselves – we see ourselves, not as we
      pretend to be but we see ourselves as we truly are, we see ourselves as
      God sees us. We see that we are full of sin; we see that He is perfect
      and we are lower than the very dust of the ground. In the God/man Jesus
      Christ we see what we were destined to be by our creation, and then we
      see the wretches that we have actually become through our sinfulness.
      The only true response to this is repentance. To confess our sins, to
      turn away from them, and to seek forgiveness from God. This is true
      humility, to see ourselves as we truly are before God. To see that we
      are full of the dirt of sin and that all our own “righteousnesses” are
      as filthy rags before Him. When we see this we are blinded to the sins
      of others by the enormity of our own sins. We know that we have become
      the chief of sinners for when we stand before God and see His
      perfection, we see only our own sin. To see our sin, to sorrow over it
      and to consider ourselves the greatest of all sinners in the light of
      Christ brings us to the beginning of humility – for we have abandoned
      all of our own efforts, all of our own self esteem and pride, all of our
      own self worth, realizing that there is nothing that we have of
      ourselves to offer to God that we have not ruined and twisted by our
      sinfulness. Humility is to stand empty before God waiting for Him to
      fill us with His grace; waiting for Him to make us over into His image
      and likeness. Humility is to die to ourselves that we might instead be
      filled with the life of Christ. This then fills out the further words of
      Christ who said, “if any man would come after me let him deny himself
      and take up his cross…” To die to one’s self is the path of humility,
      and it is also the second step on the path of salvation.

      Finally, Zacchaeus shows us the necessity of following Christ. No longer
      would he live according to the wisdom of the world, no longer would he
      give “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” as required by the law
      – instead he would give of himself four times over for what he had
      taken. If he had taken an eye – he would give four back; if he had taken
      a tooth – he would give four back, if he had taken a dollar – he would
      give four back. He would no longer follow the world or his own ideas or
      even the letter of the law – from now on He would follow Christ. This is
      the final part of our Lord’s instruction to us that “if any man would
      come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”.

      This gospel of Zacchaeus marks the end of the cycle of Gospel readings
      for the year. Next week we begin the cycle all over again with the
      readings of the Lenten triodion leading up to the account of the
      Resurrection of Christ. Zacchaeus is the culmination of the teaching of
      Christ for in him we see that we must deny ourselves, abandoning our own
      efforts and ideas and will and instead live in obedience to Christ.
      Through an awareness of our own sins and through profound repentance we
      must develop the virtue of humility, considering ourselves to be the
      greatest of sinners and devoid of any good thing as we stand before God
      waiting for Him to fill us with His grace. Having received this grace,
      we must then follow Christ, no longer walking according to the path of
      sin, but living instead the life of Christ with which He fills us. This
      is the path of salvation; this is the summation of the whole Gospel;
      this is the way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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