Saturday, February 4, 2017

Seeking and Saving the Lost

Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."  (LK. 19:10)

At the conclusion of the story of the conversion of Zacchaeus the Jewish tax-collector, Jesus made a solemn pronouncement concerning Himself as the Son of Man who has come to seek and save the lost - the words quoted above from the Gospel. 

Jesus is, of course, the Son of Man - that mysterious and transcendent figure found primarily in the Book of Daniel (7:13-14).  This is one of His many messianic titles, and one of the more exalted ones.  Under the image of the Good Shepherd Jesus also spoke of seeking and caring for the sheep of His flock, those who bear His name and recognize Him.  His ministry is always in response to human need.  But the image of the Son of Man takes on even greater solemnity, for this figure "comes down" from heaven to seek and to save. 

Who are those who are "lost?"  In a sweeping manner, we could say anyone who is disconnected from God, the source of authentic life and spiritual well-being.  

To be blind to the reality of God as the Creator and Sustainer of our existence is to be lost.  To make one's way through life as an autonomous being, unresponsive to God's presence and "desire" to save us, is to be lost. To lack the type of humility that allows a person to acknowledge the corrosive power of sin in our lives, is to be lost.  And to be a self-satisfied Christian, filled with various prejudices and a tendency to judge "others" in a condescending manner, is to be lost.  

To be lost is to be outside of the grace of God in something of a twilight zone of inauthentic existence of sheer randomness where we depend upon our survival skills and a good deal of "luck." 

Thus, Zacchaeus, as the hated tax-collector working for the equally-hated Roman authorities and working to defraud others while he becomes a "rich man" at the expense of others, was lost.  And the "crowd" that murmured against Jesus for going to the home of a sinner, was also lost.  The Son of Man came to save both Zacchaeus and the self-satisfied crowd. According to the story, apparently only Zacchaeus "got it."

To respond to the gracious gift of Christ is to be transferred from the "lost" to the "saved."  It is to be overwhelmed by the love of God that extends to every living creature and to make a pledge of "giving back" to the world and to others in the spirit of Zacchaeus.  

However, the "saved" is not a static category that once entered seals a kind of guarantee from God that it is automatically permanent.  Salvation is a process.  As Archbishop Kallistos Ware put it:  "I have been saved; I am being saved; I will be saved."  He consciously avoided saying "I am saved" in some kind of definitive manner. Salvation is a process — not a state. 

Whenever we revert to the conditions of the pre-conversion Zacchaeus; or to the complacency of the crowd, then we need to repent. 

Perhaps that is why we hear the story of Zacchaeus only five Sundays before Great Lent begins. It is a wonderful story of conversion/repentance and of the power, authority and love of the Son of Man who "came to seek and to save that which was lost."

* * *

Earlier in the week - I believe on Monday and Wednesday - I sent out a couple of meditations (one new and one old) about the story of Zacchaeus. I received a couple of very interesting responses that I have included as further "fragments" for this Friday.  There are some excellent questions and insights to be found in both of these, so I hope that you will read what others in the parish have in mind when hearing and reading about Zacchaeus.


Dear Fr. Steven,

I've been thinking about the Zacchaeus story and trying to meditate on its meaning. When you get a chance, can you please take a look at my notes and help me to dive deeper into this story, so that I can understand what it means for me personally.

Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus - is the climbing representative of our journey through Great Lent to encounter Jesus and see - to experience His light? Technically, I should be experiencing Zacchaeus moments each week and not just at Great Lent. However, something Fr. Hopko said in a podcast about Great Lent has stuck with me - "it's a time for normal Christian activity & we should be all year and not some sort of heightened spiritual experience." However, it does seem like it is heightened because of the increase in services, the fasting, the prayers, even the monasteries increase their prayers ... it's hard to wrap my mind around exactly what Fr. Thomas meant. Perhaps he meant not a one and done until next Lent (such as only praying during Lent or only attending extra services during Lent)?

Jesus goes to Zacchaeus' home because of his zeal to see him - does the home mean our hearts?

I noticed that it wasn't until after Jesus goes into Zacchaeus' home that Zacchaeus realizes his need to repent - to change his mind about his previous lifestyle. When he climbed the tree, he didn't know that he needed to change?

And finally, when Jesus said that He came to seek and save the lost - this would mean in whatever way we are lost? perhaps we don't know where (or how) we are lost until Christ enters our home/our heart, but it requires zeal/desire to encounter Christ by climbing/stretching, and then perhaps it would be revealed to us?

All help is greatly appreciated. I realize you're quite swamped, so when you have time. I suppose assurance with meditation comes with time and age?

In Christ,


Dear Father Steven,

In our pride and sinfulness, it appears that everyone has a tendency to look at the Scriptures with the Pharisaical mindset. We look at it objectively, as many do with all aspects of life.

You point out a fatal flaw in Western Christianity's method of exegesis, which I believe you have referred to as scholasticism:  "if we reduce the Gospels to this historical, social and religious context; or rely so heavily on that, then this very 'objectivity' can obscure the deeper meaning of a given passage." This makes the exegete a philosopher, not a Christian saint.

To quote St. Nikolai Velimirovich, ". . . The enormous difference is clearly seen between a pagan philosopher and a Christian saint. The one (the philosopher) looses himself in abstractions, in cleverly twisted words, in logical provocations and in thoughtful sport while the other (the saint) directed his whole mind on the Living God and on the salvation of his soul. The one is abstract and dead, while the other is practical and alive.”

The reading of the Scriptures, if I am understanding all of this correctly, is to develop the Phronema (Mind) of and within the Christian.

Thank you,

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