Posts tagged ‘Christian life’

I Can Do All Thinks Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me (Phil. 4:13)

"There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations. Without them, it is not possible to obtain a strong will. When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith. " -St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37

“There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations…When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith. ” -St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37

There is an article (a few of them, actually) making the rounds on social media right now which tries to make the point that the phrase “God will not give you more than you can handle” is not an accurate thing to say. Unfortunately, these articles themselves don’t quite have things right.

They refer back to the quote from 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able.” (This is where the quote ‘God will not give you more than you can handle’ originates). The point is then attempted: this verse doesn’t mean you won’t be given things that can’t be handled, only that God will not allow a temptation you can’t bear – that the verse doesn’t say anything about other experiences you may have within life. Pointing out difficult situations – Auschwitz, cancer, rape, etc. – the authors then say that these things crush people and are more than can be borne (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8-9 for their Biblical example – where Paul says they are at the *point* of breaking in order to learn to trust in God, Who then enabled them to handle their temptations).

The truth of the matter is that the Fathers of the Church understand all of the negative and evil experiences that we endure in this life to fall in that broader category of ‘temptation.’ We may have a temptation to fall into a particular sin, or we may have the temptation of cancer or some other tragedy in our lives. Following is a portion of the wonderful commentary of St. John Chrysostom (4th C) on the particular verse in question. If you are interested in engaging with the question at hand, read through the commentary, and I will make a few points at the end for our consideration.

“Then, because he terrified them, see how again he raises them up, at the same time recommending moderation; in the words, God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able. There are therefore temptations which we are not able to bear. And what are these? All, so to speak. For the ability lies in God’s gracious influence; a power which we draw down by our own will. Wherefore that you may know and see that not only those which exceed our power, but not even these which are common to man is it possible without assistance from God easily to bear, he added, But will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. For, says he, not even those moderate temptations, as I was remarking, may we bear by our own power: but even in them we require aid from Him in our warfare that we may pass through them, and until we have passed, bear them. For He gives patience and brings on a speedy release; so that in this way also the temptation becomes bearable. This he covertly intimates, saying, will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it: and all things he refers to Him.” –St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on First Corinthians

It is very important that St. John points out to us that all temptation, everything evil we encounter, is too much for us to bear. From the ‘smallest’ temptation to the most dramatic events, all temptation is more than fallen humanity can bear. It is only through God’s assistance that we can bear all things. God will not give us more than we can bear, but bearing our temptations requires that we turn to Him for help.

God is infinitely powerful – by His grace we can endure anything. To say otherwise would be to doubt in the power of God. As St. John says, God will give us patience to endure, and also provides a way of escape, a way to come through out temptations when the time is right.

It is very easy for us to question this Biblical and Patristic teaching, mainly because we want God to moderate our temptations in a way that seems wise to us. We don’t want to bear temptation, but to already pass through it before it has even begun. We choose not to seek God in our moment of temptation, and then it becomes quickly more than we can bear. We want God’s comfort in a way we define. But God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and His foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 1:25).

Our ‘duty’ then, should we choose to accept St. Paul’s teaching, is to seek solace from all temptation in Christ, and to accept the path He lays out for us. We accept God’s help on God’s terms, and since His might is infinite, He can equip us, by His grace, to endure all things.

Posted by Matthew Jackson

7th Sunday of Pascha

PantokratorActs 20:16-18, 28-36; John 17:1-13

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Our Gospel reading today comes from a larger section of St. John’s Gospel that we can refer to as the High Priestly Prayer of Christ. The Father’s teach us that man was created to be the prophet, priest, and king in the world – so here is the perfect Godman praying as the High Priest of all creation. It’s easy to see how this prayer parallels priestly prayer – the prayer is an offering of the work which Christ has done, and of the men whom he has gathered and taught and offered to the Father. It is a prayer of offering, and of thanksgiving. The theme, so to speak, of the prayer is the preservation of the Apostles. As the prayer says, our Lord manifested the name of God to the Apostles; He witnessed to God and to His own Messiahship and Godhead; He taught them, and they believed His words and followed His ministry. Now the time has come for Jesus to leave the world, so He prays that His followers be preserved in their faith, since by believing in Him they have truly become children of the Father. He prays again that His followers be preserved, and that they might be one, even as Christ and the Father are one. This prayer continues beyond our Gospel reading, with Christ continuing to ask that the Apostles be kept from evil and be kept separated from the world. He also prays several more times that they be one, united with one another in love, just as the Holy Trinity is united as one in love. Our Lord knew that the job the Apostles would be called to do after His death, resurrection, and ascension, would be a very difficult and trying task. They would be taking the Gospel, the Good News, the full Truth about both God and man, and they would be preaching this Gospel to an unbelieving people. They would be persecuted, hated, despised, tortured, and even killed in the proclamation of the Word of the Lord. So Jesus prays fervently for them, that they be one, strong in faith and love, sanctified, and preserved.

As I read the Gospel, and the Epistle, I was reminded of the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The Apostles had abandoned all for that Pearl which was valuable beyond all reckoning – they abandoned all for the sake of following Christ. So our Lord prays that they be given grace and strength to keep that path of seeking the One Thing Needful. Our Lord prays in the Gospel, and St. Paul offers a warning in the Epistle. There’s the beautiful image St Paul uses of the leaders shepherding the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood. He then warns these leaders of the Church of Ephesus that after he left, savage wolves would come from the outside and attack the flock. He also warns that people will rise up from within the flock, and speak perverse things, false teachings, trying to draw people away from the Church and gather disciples themselves. Our Lord prayed for the preservation of His followers, and St. Paul warns them about some of the dangers which might be coming their way. The flock is attacked both from the outside, and from false teachers that rise up within the Church. Today we remember the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council, a council which was called to deal with people inside the Church who were spreading false teachings about Christ and trying to draw disciples away from the Church and to themselves.

Both of these things St Paul mentions have happened throughout the history of the Christian Church; She has suffered both from persecution and from heresy and schism. We continue to see these things happening today. Just as our Lord prayed for the preservation of the flock, we also should pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering persecution in places like Syria, Egypt, Middle East in general, and also places like China and N. Korea, Iran, and the list goes on. These parts of the world are filled with people who literally risk their lives every single day to be followers of our Lord and Saviour. The Fathers tell us to live in such a way that we’re ready to die at any moment; this is the only way to survive when your physical life is threatened daily just for being a Christian. We also continue to deal with attacks from inside the Church, from schism and heresy. Whether it’s bishops breaking away from one another for various reasons, or leaders and people in the Church teaching false doctrine, or especially tempting today is the struggle between the changing morals of society (from abortion to homosexuality to syncretism and beyond) and the steadfast Truths proclaimed for over 2,000 years by the Church. There will always be those attempting to destroy the Church of Christ – our Lord says it, and history has demonstrated it time and time again.

As I always like to ask – how does this impact me today? Here are 4 simple things for our daily lives to help us do what Christ has prayed we able to do, and avoid what St. Paul has warned us to avoid.

1 – we follow Christ’s example and we pray for those suffering persecutions in the world (that we all may be one);
2 – we continually strive to follow Christ with the fervor of the persecuted, with the ardor and the love of the Apostles and of all the Saints (repentance – turning our back on the world and constantly reorienting ourselves toward Christ);
3 – we reinforce both our spiritual life and our understanding of our Faith by the regular reading of the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers/Mothers/Saints of the Church;
4 – both individually and as a community, we stand strong in the Faith and we don’t let ourselves be swayed in the wind by various fads and the constantly fluctuating morals of our society.

God is the same today, yesterday, and forever – and we’re called to follow Him. As our Lord prayed to the Father – may we be kept in His Holy Name, following in His footsteps, both working out our own salvation in fear and trembling before the Lord, and also spreading the Good News of the Gospel of Salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Post by Matthew Jackson

Sent by Christ: Sharing the Gospel with the World

Great CommissionActs 5:12-20
John 20:19-31

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

This morning, I’d like us to consider the question, “What has Christ called/commanded us to do as His followers?” And even more specifically, I want to look at one aspect of that question: “What has Christ called us to do in relation to those people around us who are not members of the Body of Christ?” We have just celebrated, and will continue to celebrate for the next 40 days, THE central event in all of human history – the death and resurrection of our Lord, so that we might become part of His Body and be saved.

We bear His name, the name of Christian, and bearing this name comes with responsibility. It’s not just a name we take on so that we get to go to heaven – being a member of the Body of Christ means that there are things which we need to do. Our Lord mentions one of those things in the Gospel reading today; He answers the question I want us thinking about, “What has Christ called us to do in relation to those people around us who are not members of the Body of Christ?” We just heard from St. John’s Gospel: “Peace be unto you! as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (v21). Obviously, He is speaking to the Apostles, but His words apply to us all. What is Christ sending us to do? St. Matthew’s Gospel spells it out in more detail, when the Lord tells the Apostles to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Apostles, and we by extension, are being sent into the world in the name of Jesus to share the Gospel and to teach the nations the Truth.

Not only did Jesus send the Apostles into the world, He blessed them, “receive ye the Holy Spirit.” They are not sent out to fend for themselves, they are sent in the strength and grace of God. In another place in St. John’s Gospel, our Lord tells His followers “verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). How is the Gospel, the Good News about both God and man, how is the Gospel to spread throughout the world? Those who believe are called to share the Faith. We are sent, as the Apostles were sent by the Lord. In our Epistle reading this morning we see an example of this brought to life. The Apostles went out to share the Gospel, and in Acts we read “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people…[and] the people magnified them and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” (Acts 5:12-14) The Apostles went out and shared the Gospel both by their preaching and working miracles, and many people were converted and added to the Body of Christ. Further in the reading we also hear about more people being brought and being healed by the hands of the Apostles through the grace of God.

So how does this come down to us today, in 21st century America? We are still sent by Christ – we are sent from this gathering into the world to share the Gospel of Christ. A few ideas on what this might look like…1 – In order to share Christ, we first have to work on ourselves. In plain English, this means we have to work on our sinful lives, ever decreasing our sin and growing more like Christ. We can’t witness to Christ if we’re following the way of the world. We’re supposed to be a light on a hill for the world to see, salt to properly season the world; we’re called to be in the world but not of the world. If we are loved by the world, and if we love the world, then sharing with others the Cross of Christ becomes very difficult if not impossible. I can’t call you to a new life if I’m not living that new life already myself. 2 – Secondly, and directly related to the first, our lives of prayer and sanctification have to be healthy in order to share the Gospel with the world. Remember that even the Apostles couldn’t always heal – there was the instance of the possessed boy who Jesus healed, and told the Apostle that this could only be done through prayer and fasting. As understood by many of the Saints, our relationship with Christ is built on prayer. Our lives are supposed to be lives of prayer, filling as much time as possible with calling on the name of the Lord. We follow the commandments, we pray, we fast, we live lives dedicated to Christ, and slowly we become ever more like Him.

Then what happens? Then being sent can begin to bear fruit. People should know there’s something different about us just by observation. This gives us a chance to tell these people about Christ. And there are countless opportunities in our daily conversation to share Christ on some level, whether by not participating in certain conversations, or by offering something from the Bible/Fathers in conversation…we have a lot of opportunity in conversation to bring out our faith and share at least a glimpse of the Gospel. Then there’s the ageless suggestion which we see even from the time of the Apostles, to invite those around us to “come and see.” As the Apostle Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see the Lord, we can make that same invitation to those people around us. Come and see – and in the context of the holy services of our Church, God’s grace is present and ever-working. We have the responsibility to bring others with us, to introduce them to the fullness of the Truth found in our Holy Orthodox Church. But no method of sharing will bear fruit if our lives don’t also convict others of the Gospel. May God give us strength to walk the narrow path, and by following the way of Christ, my our lives also be used to call others to the brilliance of life in Christ.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Matthew Jackson

Veneration of the Cross/St. Tikhon – 3rd Sunday of Great Lent

crossMark 8:34-9:1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today, on this middle Sunday of the Great Fast, we have two magnificent commemorations set before us. We have the usual remembrance for the Third Sunday of Lent – the Veneration of the Holy Cross. We also remember today the life and miracles of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Russia and Apostle to America.

The Fathers give us the Veneration of the Cross today as a consolation. We’re going through the rigors of Lent – the fasting, ascetic discipline, services, spiritual reading and prayer – and we’re reminded today of why we undertake these things. This is the only time during the year that full prostrations are prescribed for us as we walk into Church on Sunday morning. We fall down before the Cross in worship, as the troparion says, glorifying the Holy Resurrection. The Cross reminds us not only of the suffering Servant, but also of the Risen Lord. It’s not like we’re trying to perfect ourselves of our own power, rather we are trying to make ourselves better receptacles for the grace of God. We soften ourselves, we become more like Christ, and that opens us to receive the grace and the presence of the Creator. Remember what the Scriptures say about Christ – He emptied Himself, and took the form of a servant, for our salvation. And now we empty ourselves – we rid ourselves of sin and all that stands between us and God – and we prepare ourselves to be filled with His presence. We practice what we just heard from the Gospel of St. Mark – we deny ourselves, take up our Cross, and follow Christ. And it’s in this lifestyle of putting the things of God in the first place in our lives that we finally find peace and fulfillment in our lives. Our homiletics professor at seminary always told us to remind people that the best life possible is life in Christ. In sin we become slaves, unable to control our desires and even our actions. We become what we’re created to be by willingly setting aside our wants and accepting the Cross of Christ.
What is this Cross? Fr. Thomas Hopko says it very well in one of his talks on the Cross: he says that our Cross is whatever obstacles we face in this life. So whether we born with certain struggles, acquire them in our youth or old age, have them forced upon us by others, chase them with all our might – any struggle we face in this life is the Cross that God has allowed on our shoulders. We carry it faithfully by always offering our lives to Him, by walking without complaining or self-pity, and by seeking our life’s salvation in that place where we actually are. Fulfilling the purpose of our creation is the best we can possibly do in this world.

We see this played out, “proven,” in the lives of the Saints. The Saints accept whatever God allows to come their way, and their lives are fulfilled, and they grow to be holy men and women by simply carrying the Cross of Christ. I encourage you with every ounce of encouragement I can give – read the lives of the Saints! Their lives stand as guiding lights for us, we can draw such inspiration for our own life in Christ by reading the lives of the holy men and women of God who’ve gone on before us. Today we remember St. Tikhon – a perfect example of a man taking up the Cross. St. Tikhon was sent to North America to be her Archbishop – he left home, family, and country, traveling across the world to spread the Gospel in a foreign land. I love the concreteness of the missionary saints leaving their home and traveling to another place; it’s a very visual example of taking up the Cross of Christ. Of course, we’re called to live in this place with much the same detachment – being in this world but not of this world; living in this place and participating in the Kingdom at the same time. St. Tikhon was eventually brought home to Russia, and elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia during an incredibly difficult time for the Russian Orthodox Church. His time as Archpastor of Russia was fraught with struggles – pushing back against the godless authorities, dealing with the Living Church, dealing with traitors within his own Church – and in the midst of this all, he had to find a way not only to live his own life in Christ, but to lead others to that same experience as well. Through all of the turmoil, St. Tikhon was a beacon of light for Christians. He was a true man of God, doing what needed to be done in order for the Gospel to be preached, and for people to grow in their relationships with Christ.

So today we have some consolation. We remember the Cross, we remember the Resurrection, and we remember the great St. Tikhon – all three of these recalling for us the goal of our labors. We don’t fast to fast – the demons never eat, as the Desert Father reminds us. Our goal is always Christ. May our Lenten journey make us soft, so that the presence of Christ can penetrate our hearts, and we can become truly children of the Father.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson

Sunday of the Last Judgment

judgementIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today is the third and final Sunday of preparation for Great and Holy Lent. And we read what is perhaps the most troubling of Christ’s parables—when He speaks about the Last Judgment. The end of all things, when God’s Kingdom alone will reign in the cosmos. Satan will be bound, and for us human beings, there will be the final Judgment. The sheep will be divided from the goats, and the goats “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

I say this is a troubling parable because both the righteous and the unrighteous question the Judge. The righteous don’t understand why they deserve life, and the unrighteous don’t understand why they deserve punishment. The righteous don’t see their righteousness, and the condemned don’t see their unrighteousness. This fact itself makes the parable disconcerting. We like to feel that we have a grip on what’s going on, that we understand our lives. And this morning we hear that we don’t always understand, even our own actions.

The placement of the this morning’s parable lends to it an obvious meaning within the pre-Lenten cycle—we’re called to repent with humility like the Publican, to return to God with humility and repentance like the Prodigal, because the Last Judgment is nearing, when we’ll be placed in God’s Kingdom, or we’ll be left out of that Kingdom, for all eternity. And the Church calls us to prepare ourselves for this last day. In fact, when Christ calls people to repentance and to return to God and to follow the commandments, He very frequently will end with a phrase like, “for great is your reward in Heaven.” Everything in this life is to be our preparation for the moment of the Last Judgment—if anything separates us from Christ we lay it aside.

And at the most basic level, we lay it aside because separation from Christ leads to eternal damnation. We hope to grow beyond merely a fear of punishment, we hope to one day follow Christ purely out of love, but the Fathers all teach that the first movement toward Christ is most often from a fear of death, a fear of punishment, and a fear of the unknown. So in order for us to grow, in order for us to operate less on the level of fear, and more on the level of understanding, this morning we’ll consider the question—What does it take to find oneself one the right hand of Christ, with the sheep, at the last and dread judgment?

Christ says this morning—“I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.“ (Matthew 25: 35-36) But what do these actions mean? What is it that Christ is telling us is necessary for us to inherit the kingdom of heaven? In the parable, Christ describes the actions of people who are acting like Him. To do those things mentioned by Christ in the Gospel means to do the things of God. To conform to the image Christ. As St. Paul says, it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. We’re not Pelagians—Christ is not saying, “ do these works and you’ll be saved.” He’s describing the life of a person who has entirely submitted themselves to doing the will of God. It’s not a day-by-day calculated, “I must feed a hungry person, and I must give to a poor person…” or whatever. The actions of the people placed at the right hand of God flow from their relationship with God. They aren’t forced—they come naturally to people who have been re-born, healed, in Christ.

Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS reminds us, however, that we can have a relationship with God and not be saved (Hesychia and Theology, pp. 124-125). It’s not simply ‘a relationship with Christ’ that offers man salvation. Everyone in the world has a relationship with God—even Satan has a relationship with God. But in a saving relationship we must be healed, we must be transformed. Restored to a natural state of communion with God, from our current un-natural state of separation from God because of sin. It’s a relationship based on love, where we strive every day to empty ourselves, to offer ourselves as vessels to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And in the selfless relationship with Christ—when the relationship is on His terms (and not ours), then it’s a relationship that offers us healing and salvation.And we’ll be transformed. And slowly, we’ll begin to direct our actions in the way that Christ would have us to go.

Elder Porphyrios has some very good words for us on the relationship with Christ that offers man salvation.
He writes (in Wounded by Love)—“Look towards Christ and that will save you. What makes a person saintly is love – the adoration of Christ which cannot be expressed… no [one can] become holy without ascetic exercises…no one can ascend to spirituality without exercising himself. Ascetic exercises are such things as prostrations, vigils and so on, but done without force. All are done with joy. What is important is not the prostrations we will make or the prayers, but the act of self-giving, the passionate love for Christ…there are many people who do these things, [but] not for God…but spiritual people do them in order to reap spiritual benefit; they do them for God.”

So as we prepare to enter the season of the Great Fast, let the thoughts from this morning’s parable go with you this week. To inherit Kingdom we must be one with Christ. Is my relationship with Christ a saving relationship? Is it a relationship governed by His terms? Or do I cultivate it only when I want to? Is my relationship with Christ transforming me, making me more and more to be in the image and likeness of my Creator? And where we see failings, these are places to begin to work on this Great Lent. May God grant us the grace to see ourselves as He sees us, and to draw us to Himself by His great love for us.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

prodigalsonIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

The parable that our Lord tells this morning is one of the most well known and talked about parables in the New Testament. The Fathers of the Church have set this reading before us today in keeping with the theme of preparation for Great Lent This is the third Sunday of our time of preparation before the beginning of the Great Fast. And the last two Sundays we have looked at the encounter of Zacchaeus the Tax-collector with our Lord, and also at the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The necessity of repentance and of humility in the Christian life were the focus of those two readings. And today’s message is a sort of culmination of this cycle—a parable of returning home to the Father.

The parallel in this parable is very thinly veiled—it’s a parable about the return of man to his Father, God. This parable is the Christian life. We are the son. We’ve taken our inheritance, all of the wonderful things that God has given us, and we’ve used them simply for our own pleasure. We’ve ignored constantly the direction that God has offered us in His Holy Church. This is a fact that, in humility, all Christians must accept. Even if we’re dedicated to working out our salvation, we are the son on the journey back to the Father.

What we learn about ourselves from the son in this parable is what most of us already know. That we’ve given ourselves to the sins of the world, and have lowered ourselves—as the Pre-Communion prayers say—even lower than the animals. And so we get up to go home. At some point in our lives, we did this in the sense of choosing Christ, becoming Christian. We chose to remove ourselves from the way of the world and to go to the Father’s house. Yet we continue to fall, and we continue to need to get up out of the pigpen and head back home to the Father. The movement of the Prodigal Son is a movement that we repeat constantly in our lives. Like the monk who was asked what they did in the monastery, and he replies, “We fall and get up, we fall and get, we fall get up again.” This is the movement of the lives of Orthodox Christians.

And we’ve talked over the last few weeks about making that better. About offering a deeper repentance that helps us stay away from the pigpen for a while. Or looking at ourselves with humility, seeing that we’re nothing without Christ. And as we head into Lent, we’re going to hear constantly about this return to God. So as we spend the next month and a half concentrating on changing ourselves by the grace of God, we really should look and see what this parable tells us about the one to whom we’re returning. As your heading home, you really need to know what you’re heading to.

This parable reveals so poignantly the depth of God’s love for man. We’re created free. We’re given everything in the world, literally. We’re raised in the midst of the love of God. But we always remain free. And we can choose to take all the things that God has given us, and strike out on our own. We can choose to leave the Father’s house — to dis-associate ourselves. But the love of God is an incredible thing. The Father, in the parable, is watching daily for the son. He’s not angry. He’s not vengeful. He doesn’t write off the son and just get back to life as usual. He continues to manage His affairs on the one hand, but He’s always waiting, yearning, for His son to return.

And when the son finally begins to make his way home, he’s in the state that we should be in. He knows his errors, he knows where he needs to be, and he goes as a humbled and defeated man, trusting in the Father’s mercy. But this Father, whose been watching for his son’s return for how long? Maybe years. This Father see his son in the distance, and having compassion on him, runs out to meet him. And then it doesn’t matter what the son says. He has to make his confession, he has to get it all off his chest. But it doesn’t matter what he says. He’s come home. And all the Father wants to do is love him. To re-integrate him into the family. He brings out the best clothes and prepares a great feast. Because the son has come home. And the Father welcomes him home as the rightful heir, and gives him back everything that once was his.

This is the God we worship. This is the God that we’re constantly repenting before, that we’re constantly hurting with our sin, and then coming back to. A God, a Father, who doesn’t care what the child has done, as long as we go home. We will have to live with the consequences for the life we’ve chosen. But in Christ, all is made well. He’s spent all this time waiting for our return. And the Father receives us with open arms and numbers us among the chosen ones.The adopted children of God.

What an incredible thing to hear from God—Son, all that I have is yours…well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson

Self-examination as a Lifestyle, Not Just a Prelude

Homily preached at the New Orleans Mission Station, Zacchaeus Sunday

1 Timothy 4:9-15; Luke 19:1-10

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today we have the first of the “named” Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent–Zacchaeus Sunday. We’ll spend the next several weeks contemplating and preparing for the beginning of the Fast. Today we have the story of Zacchaeus, and we’ll move forward to hear about the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and finally, Forgiveness Sunday. Each of these days calls on us to begin examining our lives. It is that “the unexamined life is not worth living”(Socrates) – the Church certainly seems to put this notion in front of our minds with great frequency and consistency. In the daily prayers, we reflect on our day – how have I lived? How have I failed? How have I done good? We’re called to regular confession – bringing before God our sins and our struggles, and also our thoughts and our dreams, everything we are. We are in a constant state of self-examination and reflection, and we amp that up even higher as we approach and especially when we’re in Great Lent.

Zacchaeus was a pretty terrible guy. He was a Jew, but he worked for the Roman government as a tax collector. In the eyes of his fellow Jews, that already made him a traitor. In addition, he cheated people, he overtaxed and kept the profits for himself. So he was a traitor, a liar, and a cheat, and probably more. We don’t know exactly why Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so badly, but we can surmise that he’d heard that there was a great Prophet traveling around and working miracles. So, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short, and the crowds were too large. He just couldn’t get to a good spot to see from. In order to get what he wants, he stoops to doing something humiliating. He, as a grown man and a government official, climbs a sycamore tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Then, something entirely unexpected happens – Jesus stops, calls Zacchaeus by name, and says that he will come to stay at his house. Zacchaeus comes down from the tree, and receives Jesus joyfully, the Gospel said. The people around Jesus complain that he’s gone to be a guest with a sinner, but we see that our Lord does this on many occasions during His ministry. As He says elsewhere, He’s come to save the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel – He’s come from the sinner, not for the Saint.

From the moment that Zacchaeus sees Jesus, we notice that he starts to change. He becomes filled with joy, and happy to have this holy man come to his home, even though he lives as a great sinner. Zacchaeus is entirely changed by his meeting with the Lord – the Fathers say this is of utmost importance in the life of any Christian, to have at least one meeting with the Lord. That meeting is what changes everything. For Zacchaeus this means giving half his goods to the poor, restoring what he’d stolen 4 times over, and moving forward with life in an honest and God-fearing way. Jesus then speaks the result of Zacchaeus’ conversion – “today salvation has come to this house.” It wasn’t a long, drawn out process. Zacchaeus met the Lord, was changed in his heart, and salvation came to his house. It reminds me of that great saying of the Desert Fathers – that if we truly desired it with all of our hearts, we could be saved in a single moment.

So today, the Church sets before us several things in the story of Zacchaeus, which I’ll phrase in terms of self-examination (since I began the homily that way). When we look into our hearts, how are we living our lives? Are we obsessed with our own will and desires, living for the flesh and material things, like Zacchaeus was in the beginning of the Gospel? Or are we trying to seek the path of the Gospel of Christ? Have we had that fateful meeting with Christ? If so, are we struggling to maintain that great grace within us, and to share it with others? If not, are we living the Gospel and growing ever closer to Christ, “proving to Him that we are His,” as Elder Sophrony would say?

I love that quote I began with – The unexamined life is not worth living. Let us not waste our lives by refusing to examine them and make the tough decisions that might entail. The examined life might be a struggle to fulfill, but the unexamined one is hollow, fulfilling nothing and no one. Let us begin this pre-Lenten season by examining our own lives in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson