“The Goal of Personal Salvation”
October 30, 2016: The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 26)
Isaiah 1: 10 – 17/ Psalm 119: 137 – 144/2 Thessalonians 2: 9 - 13 Luke 19: 1 - 10
Fr. Roberto M. Jorvina
It is a great and wonderful day; it is another time where we can gather here. Thirty-one Sundays in Ordinary Time is a long time. This is nothing compared to the eternity that we would spend forever in the glorious presence of our God. We are in a drill; we are in a dress rehearsal. We are like in a practice so that we can get accustomed to the beauty of God’s presence, the beauty of His holiness, and the fullness of joy when we come into His presence.
In Ordinary Time, we would like this not to be just a theory that we see. It is not just a story that we hear. It is not just some religious rituals that we do. It is an experience and a life that we want and that we can plunge in. It is not something that we can sprinkle to ourselves to cool us in the hotness of the day, but an ocean that we can plunge into and realize the tremendous immensity, the power and the vastness of God’s life in us. I could not express the words when we begin to see this.
In Ordinary Time, we have been talking about “The Goal.” When we talk about the goal, we must know where we are now in relation to the goal and what we are doing today and how our lives are.
Our gospel today and every gospel account that we hear takes us to the journey that is a personal and living encounter with Jesus Christ. It is not some detached and distant story in Israel that happened 2000 years ago. The gospel every Sunday, when read, when listened to with hearts that are hungry and thirsting for righteousness is a gospel that is personal and an individualized call. It is an invitation by Jesus Himself to each one of us into a journey of joy; a journey of His kingdom. Let us not miss on this. Let us not fail or see that each day with Christ is an experience that is totally different from the other days. It is something that builds up in our lives from glory to glory into the Kingdom of God.
When we come to church, we sometimes have the feeling of getting lost in the crowd. We are a hundred people or more, and it is so easy to get lost not realizing that yes, we are a Body, as a group of believers in Christ. Yes, we are a corporate gathering, a community of people. Yet, in all of that, there is a personal and private characteristic of our meeting every time. Today’s gospel calls us to meet Christ in a PERSONAL, INTIMATE manner.
In our first reading today, the people in Israel were so caught up with the rituals, with the sacrifices and the many things that they did. Every Sabbath, they came and offered sacrifices. They went to the synagogue. They did this every day that it became so religious that they lost the real meaning and reason and the significance. What is the meaning of what we do in our Christian life? Is it all about just wearing a vestment? Is it all about the things we do in the altar? Or are these just channels and steps so that we can come to the real goal? The goal each time is a personal encounter with the living Lord who celebrates a feast and invites us to this feast every time. We receive a personal invitation, where He wants the honor of our presence. It is a personal invitation to dine with Him each Sunday.
I wish to put a subtitle to this Sunday’s theme “The Goal of Personal Salvation” as “Climbing Your Own Sycamore Tree.”
John 20:30-31 in the Message Translation, “Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way He personally revealed it.” It is as if you are the only person in this place today and Jesus is here with you. Why do we go through the motion every Sunday of the Deacon reading, the music playing, and all of these ceremonies? This calls our attention that you, as a person, as an individual, may believe that Jesus is the Savior. He is our personal Savior and personal Lord and your Messiah. In this believing, you may have real and eternal life.
Each gospel account is to put us in touch with Christ and with the purpose of our lives. What is the meaning of our lives? Why are we living in this world today, for such a time like this? It is an invitation for us to receive Christ every time because when we receive His words, we receive Christ. When the gospel of our Lord is being read, we are receiving Him into our hearts every time. We are feeding ourselves and we are answering the prayer we pray. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Holy Scriptures is our daily bread, the manna that will sustain in the life that we live each day. The Bible is more than just stories and accounts and words. This is an invitation to conversion every day and to transform our lives into what He wants us to be.
Christianity was never meant to be boring. The Mass was never meant to be boring. It was meant to be exciting, but the excitement is not up to Him. He already paid the price. He gave us His Spirit; He gave us righteousness, joy and peace. He gave us all blessings and the excitement is up to us. Will we receive? Will we begin to walk in it? When we do, it becomes a reality in our lives.
Let’s journey into Jericho town and journey with Jesus. Let us be in the shoes of Jesus and move two thousand years ago and realize that when we gather here, we are not just gathering in this room, but we are being touched by Jesus.
At that time, Israel was under Roman occupation. An unfair tax was extracted on the people by men like Zaccheus who worked for the government. These are like the modern day vampires at Halloween who suck blood out of the people. They don’t care if you are poor or if you have food to eat the next day. They earned their living by putting an extra surcharge for themselves. Depending on the place, depending on how this gatherer would do, he made a lot of money at the expense of the people. One day, Jesus enters Jericho. Why Jericho, why on that day? He enters into the very place that this chief of all blood-thirsty tax collectors, these vampires of Jericho are there.
Let us look at four significant points that we can learn from this gospel account, which is relevant to our present day lives. As we travel today in Jericho, we want to take the lessons of Jericho so that we don’t leave by not taking it with us.
First point: Jesus comes at the PERFECT TIME. Why Jericho? Why that particular day? This is because Jesus wants us to know that He comes at a perfect time. God’s timing is always perfect. Jesus came in order to seek and to save that which was lost. His timing is always there to accomplish His purpose. Jesus came for that purpose and He also comes into each of our lives with the same purpose: to seek us out. The Bible says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” When you wake up tomorrow morning, tomorrow will be today again. When you wake up next Wednesday, it will still be today because today is the eternal now when Christ says, “Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” It is repeated over and over again Scriptures.
Jesus comes today, passing through our lives, passing through Jericho, passing through this Church, passing before you. Later, when we get home, Jesus is there passing with you. Tonight, before you go to bed, He is there passing with you. Tomorrow, when you wake up, Jesus is there passing with you. Jesus shows up in our lives each time. We may have missed him this morning, but He comes again now. We may miss Him now, but when we go home, we will meet Him again. We may miss Him when we go home, we may be so caught up with our activities today, but we will meet Him again when we go to bed tonight. God is the God of second chance. He does not give up on us. He always gives us an opportunity because He is never, ever leaving us or forsaking us. He is always there passing through our lives each day. He wants us to take every opportunity to meet Him because He desires that His presence with us remains forever.
In John 14:16, New International Version, Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” “Another” means of the same kind. He comes at the perfect time; God’s timing is perfect. He is here today, and He wants us to understand this. There is no better place to be here today. You are here today because Jesus is here. He called you. Zaccheus was there on that day because Jesus meant it to be so. He wants a divine encounter with you and me.
The second point is that Jesus revives us to have a PROPER PERSPECTIVE of Him. Jesus wants us to climb the sycamore tree because this tree provided a clear line of vision for Zaccheus to see Jesus. He had to rise up in the midst of the crowd of people, above the normal routine of each day. He wants each of us to level up and to climb our own sycamore tree so that we can see Jesus clearly. Many of us are content being with the crowd of people, but we won’t see Jesus there. We have to climb our sycamore tree.
Are we willing to climb up the sycamore tree in order to get a better view of Him? The sad thing today in our world of technology and advancement is that we have the ability today to probe into the minute, microscopic (even atomic) world. We have all the gadgets and telescopes to look into the unexplored regions of outer space, the solar system and the galaxies. We have so much ability and advances in science and yet we could not even see the One we are supposed to see – Jesus.
The sycamore tree of our lives is that He is inviting us to climb up to that. It could be to stop all our activities and to say, “Lord, I am willing to climb my sycamore tree and spend more time with You.” It could be time with your family, with your children or with your parents. It could be time of reading God’s Word and spending more time studying His Word. Do we give attention to His words that He has given to us? It could be broken relationships wherein one is waiting for the other to say, “I am sorry.” The sycamore tree of our lives could be simple obedience to something God has called us to do for a long time now. It could be a simple obedience to what your parents have asked you to do. It could be even fixing your bedroom or washing the dishes. Whatever it is, we must make the effort to climb the sycamore tree so that you can see Jesus more clearly. In the everyday work that we do, the sycamore tree is there so that we can see Jesus.
In Luke 10:23-24 (NASB) where Jesus sent out the seventy and they came back and said, “Jesus, we are so happy. We have these great miracles.” Turning to the disciples, in the midst of the crowd, He did not talk to the crowd because Jesus wanted people who can climb the sycamore tree with Him. He was talking to men called disciples and He said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings (many rich people, many influential people) wished to see the things which you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear, and did not hear them.”
We are blessed today because we are here to meet Jesus. We say, “There is nothing special about this day.” There is! Find your sycamore tree and you will see Jesus. For many, in the crowd, it was just an ordinary day. Jesus was just another famous personality, but only one climb the tree and he saw Jesus. Climb your tree that you may see Jesus.
The third point is that Jesus comes PERSONALLY. Jesus said, “Zaccheus, come down.” He called him by name. It was not an impersonal call. He was called by his name. When we come and we see Jesus, He calls us each by name. You and I are not faceless, impersonal creatures amidst the one out of the 7. 5 billion people living on earth. God is so Omniscient. He is so wise that He knows everything about you. Jesus knows each of us. He knows what we are going through in our lives. He knows what you are going through. He knows what you did last night. He knows what happened to your life and the frustration you faced last week. It may be a secret to all, but Jesus knows you personally. He told Zaccheus, “Zaccheus, come down.” He will call you each by name. You are personally attached to Him.
We have a concept that when we come to Jesus, we are like attending a rock concert, and we are just one of the many crowds. We are so happy when we are waved at even though we know that it is part of the dramatics that every person would do. God is not like that. He comes to us in a personal way. Even the very hairs of your head are numbered. He has a database for you that He knows your life. He knows the failure that you faced. He knows the successes that you had experienced. He knows every bit of your life. We don’t need to get His attention. Zaccheus did not need to get His attention and neither do we. Jesus knew him. He comes to each of our lives, seeking to save that which was lost.
Christian life is not about us reaching God. Christianity is about God reaching down to us. It is God’s action and man’s response. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NASB), it says, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” In John 15:16, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” In 1 John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.”
Faith is the response of man to God’s initiative and it is a personal, individual response. Faith does not work by “proxy”. “I can’t use my faith for you.” “I can’t respond to Christ on your behalf.” “I can pray and hope and encourage you, but at the end of the day, it is between you and God and God alone.” Children, you are being taught by your parents today, but one day, you will have to stand alone before God and say, “I do this. I delight to do Thy will. Sacrifice, meal offerings, You have not desired, O Lord, but Your law, You have written in my heart and I delight, I desire to do Your will, O my God.” Faith is not a “proxy event.” God calls each one by name. He doesn’t call one on behalf of another. It is an ongoing, dynamic, relationship with the living and loving God.
The fourth point that we learn about the gospel is that Jesus calls us into the PRIVACY of our lives. He wants to enter our house and He says, “I am going to be with you, just the two of us.” It is a private matter. He wants to take us from just being one of the crowd into a personal relationship with Him. He wants to have time alone with us. The question is: Do we? Or do we want to keep Him at a distance? Do we want to put Him in a compartment and marked as religious so that He is not going to bother our social life or our career? He is placed in a compartment of our lives labeled as religious. Jesus wants the whole of our life and mine. He wants all of us and He calls us to this conversion every day.
In Luke 9:23, “Then He said to them all, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” It is about giving our whole life to the Lord who takes up His residence within us, being transformed in the process, and then continuing His mission through us. We have to take up our cross daily and we have to follow Him. This is the cost of discipleship, but it is something worth the price.
In Galatians 2:20, it says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” He wants us to have a private encounter with Him.
Zaccheus looked foolish that day to many people. Some grumbled about him being with Jesus. Sometimes, we will look foolish following Jesus. We have to say to our friends, “I am sorry, I can’t follow you anymore. I just don’t agree with what you are doing.” We may look foolish and be ridiculed, but remember, all through history, Christians would find themselves in situations where they do not fit in. In the midst of a culture that wants to see our conformity with the world, the fashions, the trending events, we are called to live differently as God’s people.
In John 17:14-16, Jesus praying to the Father said, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” We can live differently through His Word. We can’t live apart from not reading and meditating and staying on the Word.
Church, climb your sycamore tree. It is a personal tree for you. Let Christ be alive in your heart.