That a Christian is one who both follows Christ and imitates Him seems pretty straightforward. Jesus Himself told us:
“You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:13-17)
Today in American English we often hear the “you” of these commandments in the singular. We are so attuned to individualism that we assume this is a command for each off us to keep individually, and yet the command is spoken in the plural and means that all of us together are to love one another. Christ is an example to each of us personally, but then calls us to act communally as brothers and sisters. We as parish are to serve all. Christ gives an example to each of us, and together, communally, collectively, as a body, as a parish we are to fulfill the commandment together.
In this same discourse but a minute later Christ goes on to say:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Again he addresses himself to each of us personally but calls us to love together, collectively and communally. We are to be recognized as disciples not just an individual disciple. We are recognized as disciples in community. The parish is essential for our identity and witness. In the parish community we can and are to fulfill the commandment that we together do what Christ commanded us to do. This is very much what the early church understood about being Christian and discipleship: one Christian, or a Christian alone, is no Christian. Only in community can we love as Christ commanded usto do. Of course we each have to contribute to this communal behavior, but it is always each of us have to work together to love as Christ exemplified and commanded us to do.
The plural “you” – we, us – is also in St. Paul’s exhortation:
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Rom. 15:7)
Christ welcomes us and receives us. It is as one of us that we live our Christian life.
“Let us commend our selves, and one another and all our life to Christ our God.”
“’But I am in the midst of you, as He that serveth’ (Luke 22:27).
I shall not attain Jesus, if I seek him reigning in the place of honor. I have to look for Him and find Him in that place where He is hiding, in the last place, in His suffering and humiliated members. It is because they are not looking for Him there that so many men cannot believe in Him or have only a nominal faith in Him. Zacchaeus had tocome down from his sycamore in order to join Jesus in the crowd.”
The Lord said: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:31-36)
“Christ’s command that we do to others as we would that they do to us is so natural and so clearly good that it is a wonder and a shame that it has not long ago become a daily habit among men. No man desires that others do him evil: let him therefore do no evil to others. Every man desires that others do good to him: let him therefore do good to others.
The Lord continues: ‘For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye, for sinners also love those that love them?‘ This means: if you wait for others to do good to you, and to repay this with good, you are doing no good thing. Does God wait for men to deserve the sun’s warmth, and only then command the sun to shine? Or does He first act out of His charity and love? Charity is an active virtue, not a passive one.
God has made this clear from the foundation of the world. From day to day since the world began, the Lord has, with His gracious hand, poured out rich gifts to all His creatures. Were He to wait for His creatures first to give Him something, neither the world nor a single creature in it would exist. If we love only those who love us, we are merchants engaging in barter. If we do good only to our benefactors, we are debtors paying off our debts. Charity is not a virtue that simply pays off debts, but one that constantly lends. And love is a virtue that constantly lends without looking for repayment.
If we lend to those from whom we hope for a return, what are we doing by this? We are transferring our money from one cash-box to another, for that which we lend we consider to be our own, as much as when it was in our own hands.” (Homilies, pp.193-194)
Within the Gospel lesson, Matthew 19:16-26 , Jesus challenges a man who thinks he is pretty close to being perfect in keeping all of God’s commandments with these words:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Jesus tells the man that perfection cannot be found in the Commandments, in keeping Torah. For that which leads to perfection is not commanded by the Torah or God at all. Perfection lies in love, loving as God loves, in loving one’s neighbor while abandoning personal wealth and property, in following Christ.
“The commandments were given to all Christians and it is understood that every Christian observes them; this is, as it were, the tribute appointed to be paid to the King. Anyone who says, ‘I will not pay tribute,’ will he escape punishment? There are, however, in the world great and illustrious men who not only pay the appointed tribute, but also offer gifts and they are thought worthy of great honor, great benefits and esteem.
So also the Holy Fathers not only kept the commandments but also offered gifts to God. These gifts are virginity and poverty. These are not commanded but freely given. Nowhere is it written, you shall not take a wife or ‘Sell your property!’ He did not choose to do so when the lawyer approached him saying, ‘Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He replied, ‘You know the Commandments. Do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not bear false witness against your neighbor, etc. When the answer came, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth,’ he added, ‘If you want to be perfect, sell your property and give the money to the poor,’ etc. See, he did not say ‘sell your property as a commandment, but as a counsel. This is clear from the condition imposed, ‘if you wish to be perfect.’ (Discourses & Sayings, p. 84).
“At the heart of Paul‘s message in the letter is his appeal to the Philippians to imitate him (Philippians 3:17), which we must read in light of his depiction of himself as being in humble and humiliating circumstances. He opens the letter by noting that he and his co-worker Timothy are ‘slaves’ of Christ, then points out that he is also a prisoner. Thus, Paul’s basis for his assurance is not arrogance or a feeling of success. Rather, his confidence emerges from the fact that in his own situation, God has used what seems to be a bad situation for a greater purpose: although Paul is in prison, the gospel has spread (Philippians 1:12-14); although some preach from impure motives, Christ is still proclaimed (1:15-18); although death seems preferable, life is necessary, but Christ is honored in either case (1:19-26). What seems to be a lowly and dangerous situation Paul upholds as an experience to be used for the greater glory of God. Paul intentionally interprets as positive circumstances that seem to indicated a loss of status: imprisonment, dissension with others, the threat of death. He reaffirms his role in God’s greater purpose in order to underscore his own character, which allows him to speak to the Philippians as he does.
He calls them to be like him- not to aspire to greatness, but rather to unity (humility) and service (Philippians 2:1-14). Instead of competing for honor, he directs them to pursue a vision that continues and strengthens a value that already exists in the community: mutuality.” (Richard S. Ascough, Passionate Visionary, p. 38)
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘I am living with some brothers. Do you want me to be in charge of them?’ The elder said to him, ‘No. Do your own work first, and if they want to survive they will provide what is needed themselves.’ The brother said to him, ‘But it is they themselves who want me to be in charge of them.’ The elder said to him, ‘No. You must become their example, not their legislator.’”
An example like that does not draw attention to himself. Only those who wish will follow.
“A young man came to see an old ascetic to be instructed in the way of perfection. But the old man said not a word to him.
The other asked him the reason for his silence. ‘Am I your superior to give you orders? Do what you see me doing if you like.’ From then on the young man imitated the ascetic in everything and learned the meaning of silence.” (Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pp. 145-146).
When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?
How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:5-12)
O Lord, though we wish to be Your disciples, and wish we could be just like Your Apostles, help us so that we will not imitate their wooden literalism! How often they misunderstood You! Open our hearts and minds to Your Gospel teachings. We have the advantage that the Apostles did not have – we clearly know who You are, and we already know the lessons they had to learn. You have revealed to us Your teachings through them. We see their mistakes and what they learned from those errors and lessons. Their lack of perception becomes for us a lesson in enlightenment, and yet, how we are just like them in not understanding Your love.
Holy Apostles, pray to God for us! You gathered us into the Church through your preaching. We have you as examples of discipleship to emulate. We have learned both from your correct teachings and your mistakes. Ask God to take away from us the blindness of failing to see the deeper lessons He intended for you and us. Pray that the Holy Spirit will heal our hard hearts, our stiff necks, our darkened minds, our failure to bend the knee, our closed hands, our eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear, and our mouths that fail to give thanks or speak the truth.
Lord, forgive us when we don’t want to understand but instead want rules and regulations because we don’t want to love others as you love us. We fear judgment and so want to bury the talents you give to us because we too often think you are a harsh judge rather than a loving God. Do not abandon us to our blindness and desire for an easy way. Let Your light shine even into the darkness of our hearts and minds. Stay with us until we understand You!
The Gospel Lesson: 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.”
Sermon notes January 2017
Jesus in Luke 18:31-34 had just/ already told the disciples they were headed to Jerusalem where He will be killed by the Gentiles. In 19:1, Jesus seems to be passing through Jericho, he wasn’t planning to stop as He is headed to Jerusalem and his destiny on the cross. Yet His sojourn is suddenly disrupted by His encounter with Zacchaeus: “for today I must stay at your house.“ This is a surprise in the narrative. Even as God’s plans are unfolding, they can be put on hold for the sake of one person! Jesus’ own plans can be disrupted by an encounter with someone, even a sinner! There is a message here: It is never “too late” to seek Christ, never a waste of time, just to be curious about Him. Even if you are merely curious, a real encounter with Him will change your life! Zacchaeus wasn’t seeking an audience with Christ, he was just curious and just wanted to see Him. Seeking Christ is rewarding, even for the sinner, the lost, the one cut off from God’s people, the one who chooses to be cut off from God’s people.
I am really struck by vs 7, “But when they saw it, theyall complained…” The sudden appearance of the “they” is startling, even jarring to me. So far the story has been about Jesus, His disciples and then Zacchaeus. There has been no “us and them” or “we and they” in the narrative, except perhaps Jesus predicting His death at the hands of the Gentiles (Luke 18:31ff). But suddenly there is a “they”, “them”, “not us”. Zacchaeus though Jewish is portrayed as the outcast, the outsider, a sinner, not one of us, not a real Jew suffering at the hands of the Romans, but a collaborator – a tax collector for the Romans (the Gentiles who Jesus prophesied are about to kill Him!) . But Jesus sees him also is a son of Abraham.Now, suddenly, the “they” “the others” are those complaining about Zacchaeus even though they are Jews, they are not part of us, but are “them.” The Gospel lesson is about reclamation and restoration, but also about taking sides. Zacchaeus is restored to us, to the people of God. But the crowd, the Jews, are no longer seen as the people of God. “They” have suddenly rejected the way of the Messiah. They, the crowd, like His miracles and promises, but they don’t want people like Zacchaeus to be restored to fellowship, they want Zacchaeus to be judged and rejected, as they have already done. The crowd claims to be not like Zacchaeus because He is a sinner, but Jesus says He is a son of Abraham, even though lost, but the very thing Christ came to seek. The people have not understood the coming of the Messiah, the promise of His restoration of Israel. They assume He is coming to mightily overthrow their enemies, He is there to save sinners, to work with the fallen. This is Christ’s idea of restoration, but it is an idea many aren’t interested in. The crowd often likes that Jesus rejects the Pharisees as the Pharisees are too elitist and maximalist, but neither do they want sinners – those less than themselves, those not worthy of themselves – being restored to their number. They want to be proven “right” to be proven worthy, especially to the Pharisees. Of course God sees them as chosen, despite what the Pharisees might say, but they don’t want to have those they deem to be sinners included in their number!
Christ tells us in Matthew 25 to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Christ’s message is not just for Jews, but in this Gospel lesson, he is reaching out to a lost sheep to restore the person. But we Gentiles were not part of the House of Israel, we are not being restored, but are being grafted in new. There are some who need restoration, being brought back into the fold, but others have to be added new for the first time. We are not the restored, but truly sinners made new. Christ is not embarrassed to be embraced by sinners, by strangers, by outcast. We “Gentiles’ suddenly find ourselves being included not because we are righteous, but rather because, as St. Paul notes in today’s epistle, God “is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” God is the Savior of everyone, even of us, not because we are righteous but because of God’s love for us as our Creator. We too should be careful who we deem unworthy of being part of God’s people – we should welcome all who seek Christ even if we think they are unsavable sinners.
Today’s Epistle gives us some idea about how we are to live as a result of being called by Christ into the flock, the Church, into His body:
1 Timothy 4:9-16 My Son Timothy, This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
1] We are to be an example to believers – to one another: “in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” What do each of these things mean? How do we do it? We are lead by example, we should be wanting people to pay attention to our lives and lifestyles. The things we say and do are to be examples to our fellow Christians, our fellow parishioners, our family and neighbors and coworkers. In purity – even what is in our hearts is to be an example, it is not good enough to have external behavior for we must internally in our hearts be converted so our very thoughts and feelings are an example to others!
2] We are to give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. We are to study, attend adult education, be life long learners in the faith. We have an obligation as Orthodox to this.
3] “the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” Note God is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe, but God is the Savior of everyone. This is the key verse which connects the Epistle to today’s Gospel. God is the Savior of everyone, including Zacchaeus, including sinners, including people we judge unworthy of the Gospel. No one is unworthy of the Gospel, even those who collaborate with the enemies of God. No one is outside God’s salvation. Christ is Savior especially to those of us who believe, but He is also Savior to all people.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
“Let us continue in oneness of mind, bound together by peace one towards the other, and abstaining from that rage which delivers bodies and souls unto destruction. I beseech you brethren, if anyone has a complaint against another, let us forgive one another as Christ forgave us, that we may always be peaceful, not only in God’s churches but at home and in the market place, and with one mind and one mouth glorify our Father in heaven.” (St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, p 264)