Our Coming to Christ Changes Everything – Br. James Koester

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thess 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Several years ago, I found myself in Jericho. I was there with a group of pilgrims and we had stopped off to see the excavations. Jericho is thought to be the oldest city in the world and is of course the scene of that famous battle when the people of Israel marched around Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.[1] But we hear about Jericho in the gospels as well. It was to Jericho that the man who fell among thieves was going and about whom Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.[2] It was in Jericho that Jesus healed the blind man, whom Mark names at Bartimaeus.[3] And it is of course where our gospel story takes place today.

The wonderful thing about going on pilgrimage is that you are likely to see all manner of things. I have seen the silver font in which Mary the Mother of Jesus was baptized after Pentecost. I have seen the icon which St. Luke painted of the Virgin and Infant Jesus. I have seen the stones that would have shouted out proclaiming Jesus as Messiah[4]had his disciples remained silent. I have seen the Upper Room where Jesus gathered with his disciples on that first Maundy Thursday. And in Jericho I have seen the sycamore tree which Zacchaeus climbed in order to see Jesus.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.[5]

Now the thing that I discovered when you are on pilgrimage, especially in the Holy Land, is that you need to suspend disbelief. I have no idea if the tree I saw was in fact the very sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed. What is important is that the tree that is currently growing in Jericho is the place where the story of Zacchaeus is remembered. You’ll go crazy wondering if this tree or that place or those stones are the very ones mentioned in Scripture. What is important is that this tree or that place or those stones are the ones where faithful Christians for generations have remembered a particular story, a particular encounter, a particular event. So you can pass the ruins of the inn where the Good Samaritan took the injured traveler. You can see the cliff where Satan took Jesus and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. You can pray at the spot where John the Baptist was born. And you can stand beneath the sycamore tree and imagine Zacchaeus up in the branches trying to get a look at Jesus.

Now we know a number of things about Zacchaeus. One is that he was short. But more importantly that he was a tax collector. And tax collectors in the gospels were not popular. They were not popular because they were regarded by the general population as collaborators. They collaborated with the occupying Roman forces and collected the taxes imposed on the population by Imperial Rome. And taxes, being taxes, were used to pay the occupying forces. So the local oppressed population was in fact paying for its own oppression. If that wasn’t bad enough, tax collectors didn’t simply collect taxes, they also collected their salaries. The more the tax collectors were able to exact from the population, the richer they got. Zacchaeus must have been very good at his job, because we are told that he was rich. Had Zacchaeus been running in a popularity contest, he would not have come anywhere near winning.

But something happened, which no doubt surprised Zacchaeus and stunned the people of Jericho. Jesus came to town. That fact was probably a big thing in itself, because Jesus was by this time a famous teacher and preacher and healer. Everyone wanted to see him, even Zacchaeus. Hence the adventure in the sycamore tree. But what surprised Zacchaeus and stunned his neighbours was what happened next:

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”[6]

But what was even more stunning was what happened after:

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”[7]

In that simple encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus was changed, not a little, but a lot!

Father Benson, the founder of my monastic community says this: Our coming to Christ changes everything. We cannot come to Christ and go away as we came. No doubt much to his surprise and the shock of his neighbours, Zacchaeus discovered this. His simple encounter with Jesus changed him. He had not simply seen Jesus, he had encountered him and having encountered Jesus was changed by him.

There has been a moment in your life where this has been true for you as well. You were perhaps not a collaborator with the enemy. You were perhaps not the object of ridicule and derision by your neighbours. But when you encountered Jesus, you like Zacchaeus were changed and salvation came to your house.

I wonder when that moment was for you? I wonder when those moments are for you? For we are changed by Christ not once, but repeatedly. Every time we come to Christ, we are changed. In fact you are being changed today. Like Zacchaeus when you walk out of this Church today, you will do so a different person than you were an hour ago. We cannot come to Christ and go away as we came. Our coming to Christ changes everything. For today we have encountered the Lord in gathered community, proclaimed Word, sins forgiven, Bread broken and Wine poured, people sent. We have not simply seen the Lord, we have encountered him, and in encountering him, we have been changed.

Again Father Benson says:

… we must look for the development of the life of Christ within us. Each communion should be, as it were, adding some fresh point to the image of Christ within our souls. As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ, which should develop some fresh feature of his own perfect likeness within us. And it is not that it does this merely in some one direction, but as each moment of the morning adds imperceptibly a fresh glow to the whole illuminated hemisphere, so each communion imperceptibly should add a fresh glow, a fresh brightness, a fresh colouring to the sphere of the soul which it penetrates; the whole nature should assume a fresh glory with each communion. As the form and colour of the landscape come out with the sun’s advance, so with each communion the form and colour of our spiritual life, not merely in this or that particular, but in all its complex bearings of form and colour, is to stand out with greater clearness and beauty, each communion bringing its own fresh illumination, and perfecting us in the Sun of righteousness.[8]

The story of Zacchaeus is not just a story that happened long, long ago in a place far, far away. It is a story that is happening here, today, among you and in you. You are Zacchaeus. This cathedral is your sycamore tree. And your encounter with Jesus in this place is changing you, just as it changed Zacchaeus. You may not notice it, but like that work of art, like that sunrise, with each Communion, with each encounter with God, you are being perfected and shaped into the image and likeness of Christ just as was Zacchaeus as he climbed down from his tree and welcomed the Lord into his home and his heart.

Today as you welcome the Lord into your heart once again, you are being changed. You may not notice it, but in time and over time, as you open your hands and your heart you are being changed, and salvation is coming to your home.

[1] Joshua 6

[2] Luke 10: 29 – 37

[3] Mark 10: 46 – 51

[4] Luke 19: 40

[5] Luke 19: 1 – 4

[6] Luke 19: 5 – 7

[7] Luke 19: 8 – 10

[8] Benson, Richard Meux; The Religious Vocation: Of Communion, chapter XII, page 160-161

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