04 November 2007

"God Remembers" climbs a tree

31st Sunday OT(C): Wisdom 11.22-12.2; 2 Thess 1.11-22; Luke 19.1-10
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul
and Church of the Incarnation

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus is? This is a good definition of hope, isn’t it? When you hope, you seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be. For us, redeemed creatures that we are, for us, living in us, is a beastly longing for God. A caged need that roars out for our Lord, reaching for him, yearning for the totality that is He Who made us and re-makes us. Knowing that He is there and knowing that He makes it possible for us to be with Him only sharpens the aggravated need, edges the fine steel of our wanting. That knowing, that knowledge of His presence and the keenness we feel in moving toward Him, that is what we call Hope. But I wonder: for how many of us is hoping a kind of gambling? Think how you use the word “hope.” I hope my paycheck has arrived. I hope the children are OK. I hope the doctor’s report is good. Hopefully, the car is fixed. Hopefully, I made an “A” on my paper. Is this really hope? Or, is it “crossed-fingers-wishing-on-a-star-where’s-my-lucky-charm-so-I-can-rub-it-and-increase-the-odds-in-my-favor” thinking? How often, when you hope, are you actually doing little more than wishing yourself good luck? Christian hope, that is, that sort of hope that Christians experience in Christ and that sort of hope that we live by, grow in, and die with, is never a gamble, never a wish, never a spell for luck. Hope is our gnawing hunger for God, a hunger we KNOW will be satisfied.

“Zacchaeus…was seeking to see who Jesus was;…so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus…” Christian hope—our longing for Christ—is what pushed Zacchaeus up the tree; hope is what pulled him up into the branches to see who he needed to see. And what’s important for us to remember about Zacchaeus is who he is; that is, not only his name, his short stature, and his need to see Jesus, but his place in the Jewish scheme of things as well. He is “a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man…” Zacchaeus is doubly damned as a sinner by his neighbors because he has betrayed them by working for the enemy, and because he has grown rich in his chosen, traitorous profession. Only lepers and pagan temple prostitutes were considered more sinful! And yet, he seeks to see who Jesus is.

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be?

Who was he, is he and who will he always be? The Book of Wisdom tells us that “before the Lord the whole universe is a grain from a balance…a drop of morning dew…” However, despite our smallness, in spite of our insignificance before Him, “[the Lord has] mercy on all, because [He] can do all things; and [He] overlooks people’s sins that they may repent.” If Zacchaeus knows this, if he knew his scripture and if he knew and believed that Jesus is his Lord, then climbing that sycamore tree is sure sign of his hope. Zacchaeus knew and we must learn that “[The Lord] love[s] all things that are and loathe[s] nothing that [He] has made; for what [He] hate[s], [He] would not have fashioned.”

Why must we learn this? Simple. If you believe that our Lord hates what He has fashioned, including you and me, then your hope will always be gamble. Your spiritual life will be full of good luck rituals, charm bracelet prayers, and magical thinking. You will turn every corner tensed, expecting a nasty, divine surprise. You will go to bed every night believing that your hateful god will take the opportunity to punish your laziness, to strike your sinful heart dead. You will look at your family, your friends, your fellow Christians and see nothing but walking, talking occasions of sin, breathing temptations that plague your worried attempts at finding favor, finding love in God. And you live a life that daily, hourly makes a lie out of the truth of our Father’s self-revelation to us: “…you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all thing!” All things! Including your family, your friends, your fellow Christians.

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be? Do you daily, hourly seek to see Jesus in your neighbors, your roommates, your parents? If not, why not? Is it that your neighbors, roommates, parents are all imperfect? Or, is it that they are pro-abortion, homosexual, divorced, adulterers, liars? Or, is it that they do not share your theology? Or pray as you do? Or share your devotional practices, your sense of social justice, your indignation with the belligerent Bush administration, or your disdain for the culture of death Democrats? Or, is it because you have not yet come to the truth of your creation and your re-creation? Do you not seek Christ in yourself and others b/c you cannot see beyond your sin, hear over your own keening for your disobediences? Why would you allow any of these to spoil your hope, to mess with your beautiful God-graced passion for the Lord? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!

If you are worried that this seeking Christ in self and others will lead to a libertine license to sin, will open the floodgates of approval for sin, listen to the rest of Wisdom. Our Lord’s imperishable spirit is in all the things He created, “therefore, [He] rebukes offenders little by little, warns them and reminds them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in [Him]…!” Our Lord does not forget His creatures. He does not forget that we are His creatures and that we share His image and likeness. In fact, Paul tells the Thessalonians, that he, Paul, and his ministers will pray for them so “that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith…” Does this sound like a deity ready, willing, and able to stomp on you at the first sign of disobedience? No! And not only NO! but God is ready to “make you worthy of his calling.” Isn’t it the case that our rotting anxieties about sin, our worries about offending God are really just a disguise for a lack of hope? Aren’t we really worried about the sins of our neighbors, our children, our roommates b/c we are distrusting of our Father’s promise of mercy for ourselves? How ironic would it be if you put yourself in Hell because you spent your life worried about sin and failed to hope in Christ!?

Zacchaeus climbs the sycamore tree because he “was seeking to see who Jesus was.” Because he acts out of his longing for Christ, his hope for the Father’s love, Jesus calls his name and says, “…come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus climbs down and “receives [Christ] with joy.” And what do the self-righteous do? What do those whose hope is a gamble, those whose hope is a lucky star, what do they do then? “When they all saw this, they began to grumble…” And rather than run away in shame or hide his face in disgrace, Zacchaeus, confident in his Lord’s word and his own repentance, gives half his wealth to the poor and makes restitution four times over for his extortion. Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house…”

Do you daily, hourly seek to see who Jesus was, is, and will be? Do you daily, hourly seek to see Jesus in your neighbors, your roommates, your parents and friends? If so, then prepare to receive the Lord at your table; prepare to entertain him among those in most need of his mercy. Your hope is working for your perfection and Christ is coming to dinner! If your hope remains a wishing-star or lucky charm, then memorize this prayer from scripture: “Lord, you love all things that are and loathe nothing you have made; for what you hate, you would not have fashioned…But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

Oh, and couldn’t hurt to pray that prayer while climbing the nearest sycamore tree…

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