The Encounter.

Homily 531 – 33 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 29, 2023
Epistle:  (285-ctr) 1 Timothy 4:9-15
Gospel:  (94) Luke 19:1-10

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

When we encounter Christ, when we seek Christ, things change.  We change.

Or, we don’t.  Zacchaeus changed.  But some, like the rich young ruler, didn’t.

The rich young ruler went away sad, because he didn’t want to give up his wealth.  That is probably the default for most of us.  In our fallen state, we want to hold, quite tightly, to what we have.

It is what we cling to because we believe that without it, we will perish.  Or, worse than perishing, we will continue to live and be poor.  In some cases people believe that perishing is better than poverty.

Intellectually, we know that not to be the case – life itself is the ultimate gift, above all other gifts – above fortune, fame, power, status – literally greater than anything we can think of.  But in our heart, in our reactions, a different story is told.

So it is perhaps understandable that the rich young ruler went away sad.  Self-reliance was the only support that person had.

Today we uncover a different reaction to encountering Christ.  Zacchaeus wanted to see Christ.  That much is sure.  And the crowds were going to prevent that from happening, so he famously climbed up in a tree.

The text leaves us with only the motivation of seeing over the crowd – but there may have been another reason.  Perhaps Zacchaeus wanted to see Christ, yet remain hidden.  To see, visually, but not encounter Christ.

We can sympathize with that also.  To come to where Christ is and to see Him, and yet not encounter Him.  We know perhaps that in encountering Christ something will be revealed.  That encountering Christ will result in a change in us, and that we may not be comfortable with that change.

So, we try to find a place where we can see Christ, and yet depart unhealed, unchanged.  That is one of the instructions of confession – don’t come to the Great Physician and depart unhealed.

I wish I knew what it was about Zacchaeus – Christ sees something in him.  In that while perhaps he didn’t want to be seen, Christ saw him.  Not only saw him, but called out to him, inviting Himself to a party.

Then, the most important thing happened.  Instead of being like the rich young ruler and walking away sad – and unhealed – Zacchaeus responded to Christ’s call.

This was not an insignificant moment for Zacchaeus.  Maybe that goes without saying.  However, understand who Zacchaeus was – he was a tax collector, and a chief tax collector at that, hated by the other Jews.

He was not only an extortioner, but a traitor and a collaborator.  Remember, the entire Jewish hope of the messiah was not that they would be reunited with God.  The hope of the messiah was that they would be freed from Roman rule and oppression.

This meant that he would be pretty much persona non grata within the Jewish community.  I don’t know if he could go to the synagogue, or the Temple, but if he did it would be as if he were a leper.

And now, this great man, the prophet Jesus, rumored to be the Messiah, was calling Zacchaeus.  And – praise God – Zacchaeus responded, receiving Jesus.

Zacchaeus not only receives Jesus into his home, but announces restitution for any wrongdoing he has done – restoring fourfold.  He also commits to giving half of his wealth to the poor.

So, given the rampant corruption of the tax collectors of the day, this likely meant that everything Zacchaeus owned would be given away.

What the rich young ruler walked away from, Zacchaeus embraced.

Scriptures don’t really tell us how Zacchaeus made good on that commitment.  The tradition of the Church indicates he did in fact give up everything, and became a companion of St. Peter as they traveled, perhaps even ending up in Rome.

Later, he became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, and died there in peace.

The encounter with Christ – perhaps unanticipated, perhaps even undesired – was in fact the salvation of Zacchaeus.

That encounter can be and should be our salvation as well.  However, our response to that encounter, our response to that call, must be wholehearted, it must be everything – all that we have, and more than that, all that we are.

What we prepare to do in this liturgy – every liturgy – is to offer ourselves to God.  It appears we offer bread and wine, but we should understand that on that plate and in that cup is us – our body and our blood, as bread and wine.

And after offering ourselves, Christ returns the offering as Himself – His body and His blood.  He comes to dwell within us, in every imaginable way – spiritually, but also physically, as we consume what Christ offers in communion.

We become united with Him.  But if our offering isn’t complete, if we aren’t offering the whole of our being, can we really expect to receive all of Christ?

Beloved, it is normal in our fallen state to be afraid to give everything to Christ.  Yet, we can’t be saved without giving everything.

So, while we are afraid, give anyway.  While we are reluctant, offer anyway.  Everything – all that we are, all of our past, all of our hopes, all of our dreams.  What God promises, and what the Church testifies to, is that not only will we be cared for, we will be filled with overflowing, abundant joy.

Do not be afraid!  Peace will abide with us!  The nerves, the doubt, will subside.

It is a process.  But start – and there is no better time as we begin the triodion next week and start our journey through Great Lent, to then experience our own resurrection, with the Risen Lord, on Pascha.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.