The Gospel lesson of Luke 18:10-14, the Publican and the Pharisee:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
However, it is no humility to think that you are a sinner when you really are a sinner. But whenever a man is conscious of having done many great deeds but does not imagine that he is something great in himself, that is true humility. When a man is like Paul and can say: “I have nothing on my conscience,” and then can add: “But I am not justified by this,” and can say again: “Christ Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am the chief,” that is true humility. That man is truly humble who does exalted deeds but, in his own mind, sees himself as lowly. However, in his ineffable loving-kindness, God welcomes and receives not only the humble-minded but also those who have the prudence to confess their sins. Because they are so disposed toward him, he is gracious and kind to them.
To learn how good it is not to imagine that you are something great picture to yourself two chariots.
For one, yoke together a team consisting of justice and arrogance; for the other, a team of sin and humility. You will see that the chariot pulled by the team which includes sin outstrips the team which includes justice. Sin does not win the race because of its own power, but because of the strength of its yokemate, humility. The losing team is not beaten because justice is weak, but because of the weight and mass of arrogance.
So, humility, by its surpassing loftiness, overcomes the heaviness of sin and is the first to rise up to God. In the same manner, because of its great weight and mass, pride can overcome the lightness of justice and easily drag it down to earth.
To help you to see that the one team is swifter than the other, recall to your mind the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee yoked a team consisting of justice and pride when he said: “I thank you, O God, that I am not like the rest of men, robbers, greedy, nor like this publican.” What madness! His self-claimed superiority to all his human nature did not satisfy his arrogance, but he even trampled the publican, who was standing nearby, under the foot of his great haughtiness. And what did the publican do? He did not try to evade the insults, he was not troubled by the accusation, but he patiently accepted what was said. But the dart shot at him by his enemy became for him a curing medication, the insult became a word of praise, the accusation became a crown of victory. (Homily V, The Fathers of the Church, p. 158-160)
“Time! Jews in Jesus’s day and Jews in our own day have a very special sense of time. Time is moving forward in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle, and an end—unlike some other visions of time, in which everything is cyclical, going around and around and constantly returning to the same point. The Jewish view of time is part of the Jewish view of God and creation: God has a purpose for his good creation, a purpose to be worked out in time. Indeed, the Jewish people think of themselves as living within the long story of how that purpose is to be worked out.
But already, in the opening of the Bible, there is another feature. When God made the world, he “rested” on the seventh day. This doesn’t just mean that God took a day off. It means that in the previous six days God was making a world—heaven and earth together—for his own use. Like someone building a home, God finished the job and then went in to take up residence, to enjoy what he had built. Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the word would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished. –N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus, p. 136
And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law,he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
In the Old Testament, the idea of The Temple is a place where the invisible God might meet His people. Many believe the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 is really God laying out the design for His Temple – which was supposed to be creation itself. Humans however in wanting a life apart from God forced God to abandon His plans and to expel us out of Paradise, the intended Temple, and put us on earth where we could lives separated from God as we had chosen.
The Temple in Jerusalem was built based upon the original design which God revealed to Moses. It was still designed to be the place where God met His people, however events on earth made it difficult for this to be realized. God’s people were not always faithful, the Temple as an earthly building became a target for destruction.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Simeon the Righteous meets God in stages: 1) He had been told he wouldn’t die until He saw the Lord’s Christ. He was looking for someone but he didn’t know who or what he looked like. 2) He is inspired by the Spirit to come to the temple – he whom he had been looking for was now present and could be seen. 3) He sees Christ as a child. He sees what the child, the Messiah, is to be and so is able to prophecy about Him.
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.
It was the year A.D. 107 when Trajan, a Roman emperor, came back victorious from a war against the Dacians and Scythians. As soon as he entered the glorious city of Antioch, he let the Christians know that the persecution against them was not yet over.
One night a great celebration was given in his honor. Trajan, out of gratitude to his gods, ordered precious incense to be burned. But he thirsted for more victories and more blood.
“Roman citizens…tonight we honor our divinities, for they have deemed us worthy to gain more victories…But our victory cannot be complete until we defeat Christians, those bitter enemies of our empire who refuse to acknowledge our gods.”
Meanwhile, in some remote corner of Antioch, another message was being heard [from St. Ignatius, Christian Bishop of Antioch]:
“Keep on praying for those who persecute you. Return their bad temper with gentleness, their boasts with humility, and their violence with mildness. Never be eager to retaliate. Try to please not yourselves but God.
Toil together, struggle together, run together, suffer together, rejoice together, as servants and assistants of God. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism serve as a shield, your faith as a helmet, your love as a spear, your endurance as full armor. So be patient with one another in gentleness, as God is with you.”
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.”
“Christ said a number of times that He had come into this world for the sake of sinners, and especially for the greatest sinners. As a doctor does not visit the healthy but the sick, so the Lord visits those with the sickness of sin, not those with the health of righteousness. It is not said in the Gospel that the Lord, on this occasion, visited any righteous man in Jericho, but He made haste to visit the house of the sinful Zacchaeus. Does not every sensible doctor behave in this way when he goes into a hospital? Does he not go straight to the beds of the most gravely ill? The whole world represents a great hospital, full to overflowing with sick men and women infected by sin. All men are sick in comparison with Christ’s health; all are weak in comparison with Christ’s power; all are ugly in comparison with Christ’s beauty. But there are, among men, the sick and the sicker, the weak and the weaker, the ugly and the uglier. The former are considered righteous and the latter sinful.
And the heavenly Physician, who did not come on earth for His own satisfaction but for the urgent healing and salvation of the infected, hastened first to the aid of the worst infected. To this end, He ate and drank with sinners, permitted sinners to weep over His feet, and entered into Zacchaeus’ house.”
A common theme in the post-Apostolic and Patristic writers is that Jesus Christ in His various works, reverses the deeds of Adam, thus restoring humanity to its rightful relationship with God. Christ obeys the Father, whom Adam disobeyed. Christ obeys the Father even to death. Christ’s obedience leads to the resurrection of Himself and all humanity from the dead.
And while every action of Christ was seen as undoing Adam’s disobedience and sin, we who are united to Christ become part of that saving process. So when we obey God, when we love our fellow human, when we give food to the poor for example, we are using food for what is was created and intended – a means of expressing love and communion. When we give in charity to feed the needy, we undo Adam’s treacherous use of food for self gain. When we remedy the hunger of another, we return to Paradise and make all food again to be love. So, St. Basil the Great, writes how the most simple of human gestures – sharing food, can also be the undoing of original sin so that we can participate in God’s love and salvation.
“For Basil, giving food does more than cover sin: it redeems the cosmic flaw. . . . he asserts that ‘as Adam brought in sin by eating evilly, we we ourselves if we remedy the necessity and hunger of a brother, blot out his treacherous eating.” (Susan R. Holman, The Hungry are Dying, p 83)
In giving food to the hungry, we blot out Adam and Eve’s turning away from God for selfish reasons. We participate in salvation, in the work of Christ, in making the Kingdom of God present on earth.
If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:17-21)
In Western Christianity there has been endless debate about justification, especially between Reformers and the Roman Catholics but also between various Protestant denominations. Righteousness and justice are grouped as synonymous terms, often interpreted in a juridical way. But righteousness can also mean holiness more than legal justice, which seems to me how it is interpreted more in the Orthodox tradition. Righteousness can also be equated with salvation. When the first generation of Lutheran Reformers approached Orthodox Patriarch Jeremias to discuss theology, they changed the language in their documents to read “salvation by faith” rather than “justification by faith.” They were savvy enough to realize this would sound more theological correct to the Orthodox.
Apparently at one time in Judaism, righteousness/ justice was also used to mean almsgiving/ charity. Certainly if one reads the New Testament substituting almsgiving for righteousness we get a totally different view of God and salvation [Try it in the quote above from Romans 5:17-21)]. Biblical scholar Nathan Eubank writes:
“The Ancient rabbis used to tell the story of King Munbaz of Adiabene, a first-century C.E. convert to Judaism, who emptied his storehouses to feed the hungry during a time of famine. The king’s brothers were outraged and demanded that the king explain why he would throw away the family’s great wealth. In response, the king argued that by feeding the hungry he had acquired a greater, longer-lasting fortune. He cited Psalm 89:15 to prove his point: ‘Justice (tsedeq) and judgment are the foundation of your throne.’ The rabbis commonly understood ‘righteousness’ when it appears in the Hebrew bible to mean ‘almsgiving.’ Read in this light, the psalm seemed to promise that possessions given to the poor would earn treasure in heaven, under the very throne of God.
King Munbaz explained: ‘My ancestors stored up treasures below, but I have stored up treasurers above . . . in a place where the hand cannot reach’ (Tosefta Peah 4.18). According to the rabbis who recorded the tale, this Gentile king learned that the best way to prepare for the future is to give to the needy and be rewarded by God, if not in this life then certainly in the life to come. The belief that God faithfully repays good deeds has deep roots in the biblical tradition, going back well before the birth of Christianity. As Proverbs 19:17 puts it, ‘Whoever cares for the poor lends to the Lord, who will pay back the sum in full.‘” (“The Repayment of Good Deeds in Matthew’s Sermon”, THE BIBLE TODAY, January/February 2017)
The notion that God receives every gift of alms we give to the poor and stores it up for us in heaven was widely believed and taught in the early church and is common sermon fare among the Cappodician fathers. Whether or not they were familiar with this Jewish tradition, I don’t know, but obviously they came to the same interpretive conclusions about what the Scriptures taught about the importance of charity.
Sometimes philosophers work so hard to get a word to mean only one thing, so that they can use that word in one and only one way. Sometimes, to understand the Word of God, we have to move in a different direction, realizing the depth and layers of meaning found in a word or phrase. Read again St. Paul in the text below putting in almsgiving/ charity where the text says righteous/righteousness. We begin to hear another message about God which is consistent with the theology that God is love.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
At that time, as Jesus was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then those who went before warned him that he should be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he had come near, He asked him, saying, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
[Sermon notes, January 2017]
1] The blind man already knew something of Jesus for although he cannot see what is happening, when he hears Jesus of Nazareth is coming by he begins shouting for Jesus’ attention. He knows Jesus has no money to give him, but he has obviously heard of the miracles of Jesus. It is obvious that the blind man could seewho Jesus was based on what he knew about Him and what he believed about Him. The blind beggar not only never saw Jesus before he never saw anything Jesus had done. But he had the eyes of his heart to see, and there was purity enough in his heart for him to see God!
2] The Iranian movie, THE COLOR OF PARADISE, has a scene in it in which a blind carpenter takes on as an apprentice a blind boy whose poor father sees only as a terrible burden which he wants to be rid of. The boy explains his sadness to the blind carpenter – God doesn’t love him for He made him blind. No one wants him, not even his own father. The blind carpenter points out that God is invisible, eyes will not help you see God. In fact those with eyes think they can see things about God which they cannot. Eyes will not help you see God. To be born blind is a gift from God for those with eyes keep trying to use their eyes to see God, while the blind already know this is not possible and so skip that deception and immediately use the eyes of their heart to seek God. Seeking God is a matter of faith not sight. Seeing is believing? In the Gospel lesson, believing is seeing.
3] St. Paul reminds us that God is invisible from the day’s Epistle –
“To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17)
This is why Jesus spoke about those with a pure heart seeing God. You can’t see the invisible God with your physical eyes! You need to work on your inner self, your soul, the eyes of your heart to see God. Clearing away all manners of impurities from the heart is needed to see God. Even if you have 20/20 vision, without purity of heart, you won’t see God.
4] The blind man already sees that Jesus can give him sight before Jesus does anything! Jesus gives to the blind man what the blind man already believes. Jesus doesn’t even claim to heal the man, he tells the blind man, “your faith has made you well.” The fact that the man could see with the eyes of his heart enabled his eyes to be opened. As St. Paul says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
5] The people in the Gospel lesson are interesting as well, for they see the miracle and praise God. None of them benefitted from the beggar being given sight and yet they praise God. They were able to see and rejoice in the good fortune of another even though they themselves did not benefit from what Jesus did. In fact they had just a few minutes earlier tried to prevent the blind beggar from disturbing Jesus. But their hearts are good as they were able to see what God is doing. [I think we Christians don’t always have that ability to rejoice in the good fortune of others. We are often selfish and self-centered, jealous and envious. We more often rejoice in the misfortune of others. What the Germans call Schadenfreude. We seem more likely to take pleasure in the misfortune of others than to find pleasure in the good fortune of others from which we don’t personally benefit]. We would do well to learn from this crowd – even if we don’t experience a miracle in our lives, we need to be thankful for every blessing others receive, even the dispised people whom we often want to shun and push aside.