30 January 2011

Sermon on Zacchaeus

“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” Do you realize what those words mean? Zacchaeus was giving up practically all that he owned…he was moving from the top to the bottom of the income-tax brackets in one fell swoop.
This was a big move! Most of us work as hard as we can to earn as much as we’re able. We measure success by the “bottom line.”
Why is this? In itself, money is nothing—just pretty paper with pictures on it. But money represents power and freedom: the ability to do what I want. When I have it, I can take care of the necessities like food and shelter. When I have enough of it, I can get some ‘toys’ and maybe even be generous to others.
Money also represents life, and labor. We earn our living by the sweat of our brow. St. Paul said that those who do not work, should not eat. Money is not the root of all evil; the love of money is the root of all evil. Wealth is no vice, and poverty no virtue. What matters is not money, but how we relate to it.
Zacchaeus had measured his life by money. He was a little man, but he had big ambitions. So he worked the system, and he worked it hard. He became a chief tax collector. Nobody liked him, but he didn’t care. Why should he? He was rich.
And yet, with all his money, he wasn’t happy. He was restless…he was lost. He knew there was something missing. That something was a someone.
So when he heard that Jesus was coming to town, Zacchaeus made a plan. He wanted to see the Lord. But he was too short. So he abandoned all his pride, and acted like a little boy. He climbed a tree, and perched up there as the Lord walked by.
All at once, the parade stopped. Jesus looked up in the tree. “Come down, Zacchaeus,” he said; “I must eat at your house today!” These words are shocking on three levels. First, the Lord called Zacchaeus by name. For us, names are no big deal. But back then, to know a name was to know the person whose name it was. How did Jesus know Zacchaeus by name? How indeed…unless he were enfleshed God!
Second, the Lord invites himself to dinner. Can you imagine someone saying to you, “I’m coming to your house today for lunch.” At the very least, it would be a breach of etiquette. Normally the host invites the guest, but here the guest invites himself.
And third, of all the houses in Jericho, of all the places Jesus could stop for lunch, he chose the most notorious resident of the city. Zacchaeus’ house was the last place you’d expect him to go.
Ever since our first parents fell, we’ve been covering ourselves with foliage. Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves. We hide our bodies with clothes, and our souls with words and works. The unhappy person paints a smile…the weak person bellows and blusters. We cover our fear of death with money. And what is make-up, but an effort to change and cover what’s there?
That day in Jericho, the God who called “Adam, where are you?” called out to this son of Adam, “Zacchaeus! Come down!” And he calls to you and me this morning. Where are you? How are you covering yourself? You can hide from others…you can even hide from yourself…but you can’t hide from Christ. He is here, now.
He invites himself to your home and your life. He doesn’t want to be on the fringes. He doesn’t want you to simply watch him pass by. He wants to come in…to all those places that most folks don’t go. It doesn’t matter what others think of you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. He is calling.
To have him in our hearts and homes, is to have all that we need. He forgives our sins, he heals our diseases, he redeems our life from the pit. He perfects his power in our weakness. He came from heaven and shared our life in every way but sin, all the way to death; and even our death and sin he took on himself, to give us his own indestructible life and light. As St. Athanasius said, “He became man, that we might become God.” No wonder Zacchaeus could give up all that he had, to welcome Christ and follow him.
I love this Sunday’s gospel lesson, because with today the Church year takes a turn. We are leaving behind the splendor of Christmas and Theophany. Now, in the middle of winter, we hear the first stirrings of the Lenten spring. Once again we prepare ourselves for the season of repentance, and making ready for Christ’s holy resurrection.
But each day can be a little Lent, every moment a time of Paschal joy. When for the love of Christ we give us the pleasures and passions and power of the world, then we are in Lent. When we receive the Lord who calls us by name, who died and rose for us, into our homes and hearts—then, beloved, it is Pascha for us. So let us loose our grip on the things that hold so tightly: our money, our time, and our talents; yes, and even our sins. Let us be generous with ourselves in the little time we have left, that having received Christ here and now, he may welcome us into his heavenly Kingdom: to which may we all attain, through his grace and love for mankind, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

No comments: