St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / 01-21-07: Zacchaeus

Weekly Message For 01-21-07: Zacchaeus

A series of meditations on the love of God and on knowledge and love of Jesus Christ is a vital and continuing need.  “Now this is life eternal,” said the Saviour, speaking to the Father, “that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”   John 17: 3.  The whole of Christian faith is comprised in these two sentiments: knowledge and love.  Godly knowledge is vitally necessary and leads to love; you cannot love unless you first know the other person, while love urges us to practice and fulfill the will of God in our lives of which love itself is the first and greatest because we have the testament of the Lord, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments the whole law is based and the prophets as well”    Matthew 22: 37 - 39.

Our objective will have been realized if the thought and truths behind the words penetrate deeply the heart and lead at least to some practical resolutions and changes in our lives.

To love our God above all else means to give oneself to him.  To give oneself to God is to consecrate to him all our thoughts, affections and actions in such a way that the mind and soul is occupied with him alone, or with such objects as it is his will we should attend to according to the needs of the moment.  It means that the heart loves him above all things, and created beings only in reference to him according to the order which He himself established.  All that we do and all that we suffer is referred to him and his glory and good pleasure is our end and principal intention in everything.  Regardless what we are constrained by life’s necessities to do, it is subjected in our will to him, for his glory and honor, so that in everything we glorify his sublime name.

To give myself to God is to renounce all ideas of being my own master, in order that I may submit all in all things to the guidance of heavenly grace.  It is to give up my self-will completely and with only what God wills.  It is to give up my own liberty in order that He may dispose of it himself and direct it as He pleases.

The believer who gives himself thus to God no longer belongs to himself.  He no longer has any rights over himself nor does he attempt to claim them, but places himself in the hands of our heavenly Father or those who stand in his place.  We can truthfully understand and exclaim with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”    Galatians 2: 20.  He would not wish to form any other plan or embark on any undertaking or allow himself the least desire of his own accord; in a word, he has handed himself over to God as does Zacchaeus in today’s gospel narrative.

After a life time of sin, alienation and self-seeking, Zacchaeus tires of being full of himself, his limited self and so he looks to God to make known to him his will, and is always then ready to carry it into execution, without reasoning or offering any excuses in spite of his natural inclination or repugnancies.  At first sight, so complete a dependence is frightening, but separation, alienation and independence from God is far more frightening and Zacchaeus realizes this.  We see, however, in what follows that our heavenly Father can soften the yoke and makes love render it not only agreeable, but fulfilling and completing, even salutary for the soul.  St. Paul completes our understanding when he says, “I still have my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself to me.  I will not treat God’s gracious gift as pointless”    Galatians 2: 20 - 23.  Without allowing ourselves to be discouraged by foolish imaginations which have no foundation in fact, let us begin by examining the reasons that should induce us to give ourselves to God.

We are entering a new liturgical season which prepares us to gain the most benefit from the impending season of the Great Fast.  Now is the time we begin thinking of securing from God what is best for the salvation of our souls.

Is it not eminently just that I should give myself entirely without reservation to him who draws us out of nothing, and who at every moment of my life maintains the existence He has given me; who is my beginning and my end, the sovereign good from whom I have received all and from whom I expect all, and without whom I can never be happy or truly fulfilled?  What need has our God of me?  Absolutely none!  Whether I exist or do not exist, whether I give myself to Him or not, it will not affect, detract or add to his fulfillment or completion or happiness in the least.

Why then does He demand that I belong to him entirely?  It is because love, right reason and order require it.  He created me, on his image and likeness.  I am his and I belong to him whether I know it or recognize it or appreciate it or not.  It is because4 our God cannot by the very nature of things allow me to remain my own master.  His love for me is far greater and supersedes my love and understanding of myself.  I am created for His glory!  If I claim to have the right to dispose of myself as I please, I am usurping his right and robbing Him of something which belongs to Him alone.  If I give myself to anyone else more than I give myself to him, it could only be another creature, but only secondarily and for his noble purpose because they cannot receive me first without grave injustice being done to God’s infinite majesty and without committing the greatest outrage I could, namely of preferring a mere creature more than my very Creator.

But as it is just that I should belong to him, so it also just that I should be his in every way and forever; for never, at any time or in anything, can I withdraw myself from his dominion.  His rights extend to all I am, in whatever state or circumstances I may be.  He created me and only could create me for himself; and I abuse my mind if I use it for any other purpose than to know him, my heart if I do not pour out the best of my first love on him and my liberty if I make use of it otherwise than pleasing him in everything.  Similarly, I misuse all the faculties of my soul and body if I employ them otherwise than conforming to his intention.  It is not enough not to offend him; I must make it my study to please him and thus at every turn to do his will.  Nothing is left at my disposal, anymore than it is to the angels and the blessed in heaven.  Has not our Lord taught us to say to our heavenly Father, “You will be done on earth as it is in heaven”    Matthew 6: 10?  Perhaps Zacchaeus heard this teaching, but whether he did or not, he made it his own.

Is there a single instant or occasion when the will of God is not being done in heaven?  We, then, are equally impelled to try to accomplish that will as fully and as continuously on earth.

The only difference between the blessed in heaven and ourselves is that they can never do anything but the will of God since they conformed themselves to it in this life and continued in that conformity for all eternity which is why they are citizens of the heavenly kingdom.  In this, we unfortunately too often employ our free will and choose to do our own thing.  Nevertheless it is just as indispensable for us as for them, to know no other rule than the divine will.  Thus, whether I consult my conscience or my reason, it is my profession of faith, which matter, whether I consider who God is in himself or in relation to me, all I can truly conclude is as Zacchaeus already understand after his encounter with Christ, is that he must give himself wholly and unreservedly as I must offer myself wholly, completely and unreservedly as must all of us who are baptized, come wholly to him and him alone, first and above all else in our lives.  Everything in his revelation to us in Scripture, in the life of his Body, our blessed Church, in the positive example of the saints and heavenly powers, invites us, draws us to submit our will first and foremost to the God that created us.

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