Today is 29 January, 2017, the 37th Sunday after Pentecost, the Sunday of Zacchaeus. “What is crowd is blocking your view of Christ?” Father asked in his homily, “What do you need to climb above in order to see him?” While anything at all can obstruct our seeing, Father highlighted four things that are particularly troublesome to us living in the Far West at present: politics, social media, the news, and food and drink.
Politics obstructs our seeing in that it distracts us from the eternal with the temporal. Social media and the news only exacerbate this obstruction. With these the crowd that hides Christ from us grows larger and we shrink smaller with his seeming absence. This is not to say that we should not be concerned at all with the affairs of our country and our world. Hardly! Rather, we must strive to care for it, not because it is all we have but because it is the world we are given, the place and time we are each of us gifted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We must struggle against hatred and fear, yes, but we must not forget to love while doing so. We must care for the stranger, yes, but not at the expense of the neighbor. We must care deeply, yes, but not abstractly. We must not forget to see when we look, nor to listen when we hear. Food and drink are obstructions as well as aids for climbing. Eating is not wicked, but gluttony is. But why? Eating sustains us. Gluttony numbs us. Eating beyond measure makes us lethargic. There is a sense in which gluttony leads to a neglect of both community and charity. It leads to a neglect of community via the lethargy it induces. It neglects charity by refusing to give surplus to those in need. This refusing to give is itself also a neglect of community: the community of those with wealth who give and those who need who receive, this community and this charity are neglected with overindulgence. Strong drink, while not needed for sustenance, is not itself a wicked thing. Drunkenness is. But why? Drunkenness is always at least a sort of numbing of the mind and senses and at worst the weakening of the inhibitions and impairing of judgment. Fasting, the communal restrictions on or abstinence from certain foods or drinks, offers something like a practice arena. As my priest in Michigan put it, “Fasting is practice for struggling against the passions. You wouldn’t train to defuse bombs on a live explosive. Fasting prepares us for more difficult and dangerous struggles. It also teaches faith, by reminding us that we rely on God for sustenance, and community, because we don’t fast alone.”
Politics, social media, the news, and food and drink. Father encouraged us to be aware of these obstructions in the coming weeks in preparation for Great Lent. He listed these four, but I would list “work” and “friendships” to the list. These are easily accepted as good things, even as things that aid in our salvation. Work is, of course, what funds our own lives and what funds our alms giving. Friendships are our community, our society, and they are also those people closest to us. They are the presence of Christ to us and we are the presence of Christ to them. Work can, however, obstruct a life of faith. Friendships can distract from faith as well. In both cases it is a matter of intention and willingness. In both cases it is also a struggle against neglect and apathy. It is easy to prioritize work over church. It is also a sign of a lack of faith. It is simple to prioritize friendships in the world over the community of believers. It is also a forgetfulness of what is eternal. Whatever obstructs Christ, whatever makes him seem absent, we must climb above it, challenge it. Christ is present always. It is we who are often absent. Have faith. Climb. See.
Today is the 37th Sunday after Pentecost, the Sunday of Zacchaeus, and next Sunday the Lenten Triodion begins. The Triodion, the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and the Sunday of the Last Judgment, is entrance to Great Lent, the preparation for the preparation for Holy Pascha. With the Triodion we look at our own pride and our lack of humility, our abandoning of God and the possibility of return an reconciliation, and finally at the cost of our rebellion and the gift of freedom from the damning cost of it. It is on the evening of the Sunday of the Last Judgment that we celebrate Forgiveness Vespers and enter into our full preparation for Holy Pascha by forgiving our brothers and sisters and by asking forgiveness.
We enter the preparation for this season of asceticism with today, with Zacchaeus, and the encouragement to climb above what hides Christ from us. We must not blame our blindness on the crowd or our own slight stature. We must climb. We must have faith. We must learn how it is with faith by living and looking.
Be and become well, love and be loved, hope and have hope, home and be homed. Climb.