• Gospel Reading
  • In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! Today is Zacchaeus Sunday. The first of four Sundays designated as preparatory Sundays for Great Lent. It’s hard to imagine—having just left the Nativity season—but Great Lent is rapidly approaching. Instead of just suddenly casting us into the middle of the most rigorous period of fasting and asceticism in the Church year, in their great wisdom the Fathers have given us four weeks to make preparation for what lies ahead. In general, preparation for what we know is coming is an important virtue. Especially in the spiritual life. We know rain is coming, so we carry an umbrella. We know that temptations are always approaching, so we keep ourselves constantly in prayer and watchful to reject the approach of evil. And we know that Great Lent is approaching, so we begin now preparing ourselves for changes that come with the season. So the next four Sundays, today included, act as warnings/incentives/guidelines as we prepare ourselves for the Great Fast. These four Sundays are all named for the Gospel we read—Zacchaeus, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Judgment. Today, obviously, is Zacchaeus Sunday. A close look at, and unfolding of, the message from Christ in this Gospel is important as we move toward the period of Great Lent.

    Zacchaeus is a tax collector. Tax collectors in Judea at this time were Jews, but they worked for the Roman Empire. And they collected money from their fellow countrymen for the occupying empire. So, they basically worked for the enemy. And not only did they work for the enemy, but in their money collecting they were notorious for collecting extra money to supplement their salary. So they worked for the enemy, and they were thieves. The tax collectors were a hated people. We hear this in the response of the people who were traveling with Christ and saw Him go into the house of Zacchaeus to eat—“He has gone to be a guest with a man that is a sinner.” Murderers and prostitutes were commonly called “sinners”; so just in this reaction we can see how the tax collectors were regarded. In an ironic twist, the name “Zacchaeus” means “the pure and innocent one.” So this man was obviously not living up to the name his parents had given him. Now, we might expect this man to be calloused, mean, hateful, very much dis-interested in anything other than him life and his wealth. But he does an interesting thing at the beginning of the Gospel reading. “He sought to see who Jesus was.” We know he could hear the commotion on the street; a large enough crowd was following Jesus that Zacchaeus couldn’t get close enough to see Him. And we can surmise that he had probably heard about Christ by now. Our Lord had quite a following, and was rather well known in the area because of His many miracles and His teachings. So Zacchaeus’ appetite had been whet. “He sought to see who Jesus was.” He didn’t even necessarily want to meet Christ, he just wanted to see who this Man was. And then Zacchaeus does something incredible. Because he was short and couldn’t see Jesus, he climbed a sycamore tree. This isn’t just some vague curiosity; he had a willingness to undergo more ridicule and scorn and humiliation than he already received as a tax collector, for the sake of seeing Jesus. Just imagine, a wealthy man of high standing in society, who was hated by almost everyone, climbing up in a tree because he wanted to see something. Not only did Zacchaeus get the chance to see the Lord, but Christ stopped and called him down from the tree by name, and went to his home to eat. We don’t know what type of conversation took place in the house of Zacchaeus, but we know the result of his meeting with the Lord. He gave away half of his wealth to the poor, and he restored any money he had falsely collected four times over. In fact, from the scene in the Scriptures, it seems like he was ready to do this just from his initial meeting of Christ. He went from stealing and cheating, to caring for the poor and repaying his evils instantly. As one of the Desert Fathers said—“Man can attain to the likeness of God in just one day if he so desired it.” The transforming power of repentance in Christ has a radical and an immediate effect on the believer. Zacchaeus speaks like a new creation in Christ. And Christ’s response—“Today salvation has come to this house.” Not only Salvation in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But also Zacchaeus’ personal acceptance of Christ’s salvation by beginning to do the works of the Lord. He was initially accused of being a great sinner by the crowd, and by the end of the reading he’s changed, he’s repented of his evil, and from the mouth of God Incarnate we hear “salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus has been healed; he’s been made whole in his meeting with Christ. And then we have our Lord’s final phrase, “For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost.” This is what we take away with us this morning to strengthen us in our Christian walk. Not only in preparation for Great Lent, but in preparation for the temptations I’m gonna face later on this afternoon. Christ is come to save that which was lost. To seek us out and to offer us healing and salvation. We have at the forefront of our minds that God’s ultimate desire for mankind is salvation. And no matter how bad off we are in whatever it is we’re involved in, we can look to Zacchaeus for encouragement. People can change. People do change, by the power and grace of God. Zacchaeus turned his back on all that been important to him—on his wealth and his image and his importance—he gave it all away for Christ. In the Christian Tradition, this is known as repentance. Great Lent is all about repentance. About turning away from my will, from my sin, turning to Christ as my source of life. And this is not only for Lent; St. Isaac of Syria says “This life has been given to you for repentance, waste it not in vain pursuits.” Christ is seeking us out, offering us His life for our salvation. Our response is repentance. Turning to face Him. Beginning to do the works of the Lord. Putting aside all earthly cares, as we’re about to sing in the Cherubic Hymn, that we may receive the King of All. The Christian life is about this—putting aside ME that I may be fulfilled in HIM. Great Lent is a time when we really focus on this repentance, on this change that Christ is working in us by His grace and our cooperation. And this Gospel is set before us today so we begin preparing, so we can begin on the path of repentance. And this process of ridding myself of all that separates me from Christ is ongoing. It’s every day of the Christian life. But as the Desert Father we heard earlier said—if we truly desired this transformation, desired it with no reservation, with every fiber of our being, then we could attain to the likeness of God in but one day. Thank God that His focus is seeking us out and healing us, and that His mercy endureth forever. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!