What Do You Desire?
Just coming off the Christmas and holiday season, some parents may be a little tired of hearing “I want” from their children. “I want this…I want that…” Buying gifts for Christmas often is based on what we think people want. Sometimes it’s about they need but for us relatively rich, affluent people what do we really need? After all, compared to most of the rest of the world, we have everything. We have it so good. But because we live in a society that is so influenced by materialism, it’s often about having more or better, even if we have a lot of good stuff. This reality exists at every level of the socio-economic ladder. No matter if poor or rich, we humans are typically never satisfied with what we already have. It’s almost always about what do I/we desire?
The only remedy for this problem of acquisitiveness, and it is a problem by the way, is change the question slightly from, “what do I desire?” to “whom do I desire?” Some might say, “well wait a minute; some people desire other persons like you and I might desire a piece of meat,” and they would be right. Some people do desire another person in a way that treats them like an object only to be used for my own selfish desire. But at least we’re talking about a person and not an object. Hopefully, by now, you’re getting the gist of my direction. The person we should desire is God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. If all our desire is focused on Him, then every other desire in our life will fall into its proper place.
Look at the person of Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel reading from the 15th Sunday of Luke (19:1-10). What do we know about him? Well he was chief tax collector and rich (v.2). But more importantly we learn that “he sought to see who Jesus was” (v.3). In fact his desire to see Jesus was so great, he climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see over the crowd that had gathered (v.4). He needed to do this because he was not a very tall person (v.3). Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus as so great that it must have been something special because Jesus notices him. And out of all the hundreds, if not thousands of people, Jesus not only spots Zacchaeus but He calls out to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” (v.5). We know that Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus was sincere because he immediately came down from the tree and welcomed Jesus joyfully into his home (v.6). Understandably, many other people in the crowd were not happy that Jesus picked Zacchaeus to personally visit because tax collectors, who worked for the Roman government, were considered traitors by their fellow Jewish people. That’s why they called him a sinner (v.7).
And what happened when Christ came to the home of Zacchaeus? Well it seems plainly evident that many of the other desires in heart of Zacchaeus were put into proper order. The transformation was dramatic as Zacchaeus promised Jesus, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (v.8).
So the question we should we ask ourselves, especially if we are rich like Zacchaeus, is “whom do I desire?” And how much do I desire him or her? Whether we are rich or poor, let us ask ourselves, “Do I desire Jesus Christ? Do I believe in Him?” Fr. Anthony Coniaris, in his sermon on “The Importance of Desire” (Message from Sunday Gospels vol.1, p.119) says, “There is more evidence that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caeser ever lived, or that Alexander the Great died at the age of 33. Yet, many accept the scant evidence of the latter and reject the mountain of evidence for Jesus. Thus, the trouble is not with the evidence but with the desire. They don’t want to believe, thus they refuse to accept the evidence. We don’t want to believe because if we do then Jesus makes demands upon us: “Do this, don’t do that.” And we don’t want to be accountable and responsible to Jesus. We don’t want to feel guilty.”
Because we are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26), implanted within us is a desire for our Creator. But God does not make this automatic and instinctual like the rest of animal creation. We are also endowed with freewill to choose to direct that desire towards God or towards something else. God respects our freedom. But where we direct our desire still has implications.
Fr. Coniaris continues, “Jesus said to the Paralytic (John 5:6), “Do you want to be made well?” Seneca said, “It is part of the cure to wish to be cured.” Research shows that patients undergoing surgery are more likely to heal faster if they have expectant faith and desire to get well. The lesson is that we do what we really want to do. If we don’t know how, we learn. If we don’t have time, we make time. No obstacle can stand in the way if there is a real inner desire. That includes coming to church, finding time for prayer, attending bible study, etc.”
Furthermore, he adds, “Most of us have desire but the problem is we have too many desires. We desire a new dress, a new car, a new tv, or smart phone or laptop. The desire for God is there, to be sure, but it is buried beneath countless other desires. The other problem is that the desires we have are for the wrong things, sinful things. The ungodly desires are called the passions by the Church Fathers. They include pride, lust, envy, greed, anger. Therefore, we need to prioritize our desires. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful” (Lk.10:42).”
In conclusion, we must remember that we are all like Zacchaeus in that we are sinners. We are all in need of God’s salvation. And we are all short of stature spiritually in our relationship with God and often to other people. We need to grow and mature. When we hear the Gospel reading about Zacchaeus it is a sign post letting us know that Great and Holy Lent will begin in just a few weeks. Thus, one of the important themes in that the journey towards Lent and Holy Week, our ascetical experience of the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that journey begins with the first step of desire; desire turned from objects to persons, and desire turned from persons to a person, the person of Christ Himself.
When we reduce our life to its absolute bare-essentials, we come up with the one thing that is truly needful: God, His Kingdom, His love, His forgiveness, His peace. When the Lord Jesus becomes our first and greatest desire in life, then all of the other desires in life fall in their proper place/order.
“You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart” says the Lord (Jeremiah 29:13).
When Jesus sees us up in our prideful sycamore tree, He will call us to be humble and come down and to change our life. And when our desire has its fulfillment in Him, then Jesus will say to us: 9“Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We are lost in our riches and our sins but we are saved by Him who seeks us, when we desire to seek Him. Amen!