To see Christ or hide from Him?

Homily 346 – 37th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 10, 2019
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.

Zacchaeus is such a fascinating figure for me.

His name means pure and righteous one. That was not the opinion of his fellow Jews, however.

He was a traitor to the Jewish nation – a tax collector, and moreover a Chief tax collector.

St. Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the second century, reports that Zacchaeus was renamed Matthias by the Apostles, and it was he who was selected to replace Judas when the lots were cast. Later sources identify Zacchaeus the Publican as the first bishop of Caesarea.

Zacchaeus heard of this man Jesus. Yet, Zacchaeus was not a popular figure in Israel. As a tax collector, it would be difficult for him to simply blend in with the crowd. But he wanted to see Jesus.

So, he climbed up in a tree.

Unobtrusive, partly because of his stature, but I suspect mostly because of his desire to be unseen, or unnoticed.

Either way, this man wanted to encounter Christ on his terms, not Christ’s terms or the public’s terms.

We can’t do that. That is the sin of Adam and Eve – to desire God on our terms, rather than God’s terms.

So when Christ sees him, tells him to come down, it is Christ who is dictating the terms, not Zacchaeus.

Thankfully, Zacchaeus recognized Christ’s call, and had the humility necessary to come down. Humility because it was choosing to accept Christ on Christ’s terms, rather than his own.

We also – sometimes – want to have both – have a relationship and see Jesus, while also remaining secret to the world. We prefer being a closeted Christian.

We don’t want to be mocked, or be thought less by our friends, or lose the respect of people we respect. All of which happens in the life of the “outed” Christian.

Jesus brings us out into the light. Away from the tree in which we have hidden ourselves, and places us in a difficult spot.

We have to then publically declare one way or another. Are we with Christ, or against him? There isn’t a middle ground.

Christ tells us as much in the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian. To the Church at Laodicia, he writes:

“You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

Once we know Jesus, we are accountable for what happens next.

As we prepare for the Lenten season, coming up within a month, are we willing to humble ourselves and accept Christ on Christ’s terms?

And, after that, are we willing to repent of our sin, as Zacchaeus repented of his?

Today, and for the next three weeks as we go through the Triodion weeks leading up to Forgiveness Sunday and Great Lent, we have an opportunity to think about our humility and repentance. Not our neighbor’s humility and repentance. Not our family’s. Ours.

We should think about it always, but especially now, as we enter into Christ’s journey to Jerusalem, to the Cross, and to the resurrection, which is our Passover, or Pascha.

We cannot sit on our perch, observing Christ from a safe distance. That’s not the Christ we have – we have Christ that is in our face, demanding an answer.

Will we submit ourselves to Christ? Will we submit ourselves to our Creator?

Or will we continue to be our typical stubborn selves and demand our own way?

That’s a provocative word – stubborn. Those of us – me especially – who say “I’m not stubborn!” We’re the ones that most need to examine ourselves. We are stubborn. The Bible is replete with references, especially in the Old Testament, references to a stubborn and stiff-necked people.

We are, if we are honest with ourselves, no different.

That’s what God desires to see in us – an admission, and recognition, that we are stubborn. We are stiff-necked. We want things our way.

Christ sees us. We can’t hide. He sees us as we are. He sees the part of us that we cannot see – or we refuse to see. And yet – he still desires our union with him.

He desires the unity that He shares with the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Just as the Trinity is One, so too does Christ desire that we be One – with each other – and with Him.

As we begin the journey through Lent, to Holy Week and Pascha, let’s come down from our tree. Let’s not be observers any longer. Christ is calling us to come down, to meet Him face to face.

He desires to share a meal with us, in our house, in our very self – our soul. That meal comes from Him, through this Eucharist that we are about to partake. He offers us not just a meal – he offers us Himself. His body. His blood. His life. Come down from the tree, humble yourself, and be joined to Christ.

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