Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
Monday, January 30, 2023
Last week in this space we opined about those who feel the “need to be noticed”, offering the thought that too many of us seek attention in ways that are problematic at best, and destructive at worst.
But in today’s Gospel, we encounter Zacchaeus, a case study in total opposition to last week’s focus.
Zacchaeus HAS a heartfelt desire, but it is not for recognition. If anything, we could surmise that he would like to “fade into the woodwork,” to use a contemporary euphemism. He’s a tax collector. The people HATE him because of this, for while being a Jew, he is become a representative of the oppressing government, the Romans.
We all know the story. But some aspects of it bear both repetition and a greater depth of view.
First, Zacchaeus WANTED to be able just to SEE the Lord. Yes, he was seen as “a sinner” because of his profession by other Jews in the streets. Yes, he no doubt felt a sense of guilt over his life’s turns and the way in which he conducted his business as a tax collector (he cheated people out of money). All that being as it may, he DESIRED to see the Lord, not unlike people who join other crowds to this very day to catch a glimpse of sports heroes, rock stars, movie stars, or showing my age, astronauts. When people attempt to do this, they NEVER expect to be noticed by the person or persons they are attempting to see.
But here is the first place that Zacchaeus’ actions take a turn. He can’t see the Lord because he’s too short. So he looks, and determines that Jesus will pass a certain tree. So he rushes there, climbs up far enough to get his view.
And Jesus arrives. Mission accomplished. Go home, right?
It is Jesus now Who calls out, not to a non-descript man in a tree, not to a nameless person in the crowd. Jesus says plainly, specifically, “Zacchaeus, come down! I need to stay in your home this day.”
Never having met him, Jesus calls him by name. And in His call, there is not judgment. There is love. REAL love. Agape kind of love. The crowd has condemned him. Jesus accepts him.
Because He knows the hearts of man, and Jesus knows that in showing love—and forgiveness—Zacchaeus’ life will be changed forever, conformed to the will of God.
What happens to Zacchaeus after this encounter in the street? He goes home with the Lord. He makes a vow to distribute anything he’s stolen in restoration to those he harmed. He gives from what remains to the poor.
His entire life is changed.
What happens to Zacchaeus after this encounter in his home?
Tradition holds that he became a traveling companion with St. Peter on his missionary trips. It further teaches that St. Zacchaeus became the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, and office he held until he died there in peace.
This account is gifted to us before we cross the threshold into the Triodion, to show us the hope there is in a loving Lord Who is waiting to love us and to forgive us, as well!
Monday, January 23, 2023
Social media has turned us into a society of exhibitionists. We seem to think that virtually ANYTHING that we do, say, think, eat, visit will be of interest to others. The worst part of this is that we actually believe that OUR information shared with literally the rest of the world is somehow more interesting than similar information shared by others. We can’t wait to post things about us. But when that computer chime goes off saying that someone else wants to share their story with us, we’re often annoyed, ignoring their posts as tedious and boring.
But there are righteous instances of seeking to be noticed. The Psalmist records, “In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He answered me.” (Ps 120:1) And again, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Ps 34:17)
But we need not understand our pleas before God to necessarily be shouts. God knows the heart as well. “And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a still small voice.” (1Kings 19:11-12)
So you see, we can be noticed by that which is forceful. But the forcefulness of our plea is that which is necessary to gain God’s attention.
In short, prayer needs to be fervent. What does this mean?
fer’-vent: adj 1) showing great emotion or zeal; ardent; 2) extremely hot; glowing; 3) boiling; burning.
It is true that the blind man in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 18:35-43) showed a fervent prayer in the form of his impassioned cry, which is one source of our use of the Jesus Prayer—”Son of David, have mercy on me!” The reference to David is a clear indication of the blind man’s recognition of Jesus as King of Israel.
But I submit to you that the blind man’s prayer from today is no more fervent than the prayer of the woman with the issue of blood, whose lips uttered nothing! What was her “prayer”? What was her cry out for attention? It was simply the faith that recognizes the authority in Jesus to heal, a faith so intense and focused that it need not trouble the Master even for a ‘formal’ recognition. When her touch reached the hem of our Lord’s garment, she knew instantly that she had been noticed, her fervent prayer had been recognized, for she knew the pain and suffering that her hemorrhaging brought her, and she knew upon the instance of that touch that this pain had ceased.
In no less of a miraculous way, today’s blind man receives his sight knowing that Jesus has ‘noticed’ him, for it is Jesus Himself Who asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
The sight that Jesus restores is twofold. Jesus restores the man’s physical vision. But He also brings to him spiritual sight, for now, he becomes a follower of Jesus. He now moves with the Lord, giving glory to God!
Monday, January 16, 2023
[Homily, 31st Sunday - Luke 18:18-27]
Let’s face it. We Americans have all been “conditioned,” trained if you will, to be capitalists. We expect to make a profit on any ‘deals’ in which we engage. No one puts money into a 401k expecting to come away with less after some amount of time (although many of us are seeing that very thing right now). No one starts a business hoping to spend more than they take in.
Even our Lord’s parable of the talents speaks to God’s expectation that He looks for us to return more to Him than was given to us via the gifts He bestowed upon us.
And so, it’s not surprising that in the three verses of the 18th Chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, we find exactly this type of question put to our Lord by His own Apostles.
They had just witnessed the “rich young man” leave the presence of our Lord, and the young man was devastated because “the prescription” that Jesus gave to him to cure his particular spiritual illness was to sell all that you have and distribute to the poor. It is not even clear if this poor young man heard the “good news” that was the ending to this instruction, and you will have treasure in heaven, plus the even better news, then come and follow Me. The young man was given the blessing, the ability to become a disciple of God the Son. But he either did not hear this great invitation, or he chose to ignore it because of his particular attachment to those earthly things that Jesus, in His understanding of every human soul, saw as his impediment to greater things in his spiritual life.
Having been witnesses to all of this, it is now the Lord's Apostles who are wondering, ‘Well, what’s in it for us?’
It is once again Peter who speaks for the whole group. He poses the question without asking it in specific words. He says to Jesus, See, we have left all and followed You.
See, Lord? Haven’t WE done what you were encouraging that young man to do? So, You’ve laid out the terms of payment. What will be our ‘interest’?
And our Lord is not offended by their question. Indeed, Jesus’ answer speaks volumes to all who throughout all ages have chosen to follow the path He has defined for those who wish to be known as His followers and His disciples.
Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more…
Great! We’ll collect interest. But how, and when? Jesus continues:
in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.
So here’s the promise. You will receive more than you give. Note that the promise does not say that you will be financially prosperous. “More” is defined in God’s terms, not in man’s terms! But the greatest “more” is that final one—eternal life.
For you see, there are only two destinies for every soul. Eternal death (separation from the love of God for all eternity, the definition of ‘hell’) or eternal life (being in the presence of God’s love for eternity, the definition of heaven).
So indeed, what’s in it for any of us is what we’ve put into it. Store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven...for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mat 6:20-21)
Sunday, January 8, 2023
For the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
These are the first words of instruction that our Lord speaks to us in the Gospel of St. Matthew today (Mat 4:12-17). Prior to this, He speaks to the Forerunner (Let it be so for now, for thus is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness), and He speaks to Satan in the desert the three rebukes for the three temptations.
But these words today are now different. They are directed at all people—for all time.
Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
For those being taught how to communicate in the forum of public speaking, the first axiom taught is, ‘Lead with the message you are attempting to communicate.” In other words, start with strength and set the direction.
These nine simple words from the lips of the Word are the greatest example of this. If we as faithful followers of our Lord begin our efforts, our struggles, with the focus being on repentance, all of the other virtues will fall into place.
What are the other virtues?
FAITH: How can one fully embrace faith in God, faith in Christ, faith in the Trinity without being repentant? God, Who IS love and Who loves all of us, both the evil and the good, shows that we cannot approach Him without sharing in that love. And how can we love when we do not repent? How can we separate our sins from our interactions with our fellow man?
HOPE: Hope is that virtue that calls us to hold out for that which is good. We expect it from God. We have hope in others for good. We even expect ourselves to turn from evil toward good. But that’s the definition of repentance. Without repentance, there is no hope!
HUMILITY When we repent, we place ourselves into that position which we pray in each of our “Prayers before communion,” where we declare ourselves to be one of all sinners, but we declare ourselves as the first among sinners. If I see myself as less sinful than ANY other, then I lack true humility. And the only way to change this condition is—by repenting, proving myself to be first among sinners.
We could continue through the list of virtues, but we’d come to the same conclusion in each case—the virtues are acquired by submitting to this first of our Lord’s instructions to us.
But Jesus continues with the words that follow.
For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The Greek word used for “at hand” is engizo. It carries the meaning that the subject being pointed to is near, NOT at some distance. Jesus is saying that we don’t need to look to the sky to imagine heaven in the distance. Heaven is here, in amongst us, around us.
At the Feast of Nativity, we sang with great joy, “GOD IS WITH US!” If He is with us, and He is in heaven, then where are we to find heaven, if not truly also here, with us?
The Lord makes it clear that God does not despise the broken and contrite heart (Ps 51:17). This is the offering, the ‘sacrifice’ He asks us to bring to Him—our Repentance!