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 beginning of our Sunday preparations for Great Lent. We’re exactly one month from Forgiveness Sunday, and the start of the Great Fast. In the Church, we’re offered the chance to prepare thoroughly for everything. Fasting periods to prepare for feasts. Communion fasts and prayers to prepare for the Liturgy. The catechumenate to prepare for baptism and chrismation. And even an entire month to prepare ourselves for Great Lent, which has the purpose of preparing us for Great and Holy Pascha.

All of the events in the life of the Church are for our salvation, for the grace of God to be poured out on us and for our lives to be transformed. And the Fathers consistently teach us that to receive the grace of God and to be transformed, it requires preparation on our part. For the Holy Eucharist to penetrate every aspect of my being, and for me to retain and to be changed by the grace of God, I have to be prepared for that to happen. The Christian life isn’t magic – God operates in a way that the Church Fathers call synergy. We work together with God. Our part may in fact be tiny, but our will and our movement toward God are necessary.

So as we begin even distantly to approach the Great Feast of Pascha, the Church is endeavoring to give us every opportunity to participate as fully as we possibly can in the Mystery of our Lord’s death and resurrection. The first step in this being to prepare ourselves for Great Lent. The story of Zacchaeus is a perfect place to begin our meditations for Lent. Zacchaeus has the desires and realizations that each of us as followers of Christ have to come to. This is our Point A, our starting place.

1 – Zacchaeus sought to see Jesus. We naturally have a desire to see the ones we love. It doesn’t really matter what drew Zacchaeus to look for Jesus in the first place; most likely, many of the same things that still today draw people to the Christian Church. But Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. This is at the center of our lives as Christians. Out of love for our God, we want to see Him, to be with Him, to be seen by Him. We can so easily get caught up in the goings on of life in the world that we forget our main goal is to see Jesus. Not in some bizarre non-Christian understanding. But it’s a natural and necessary thing to want to see Jesus. This sets the framework for everything we do in the Christian life (according to the Fathers) – to see, and to be with, Jesus.

2 – Zacchaeus climbed into a tree just to catch a glimpse of this man Jesus. This shows how strong his desire was. Even today, to climb into a tree at an event is pretty embarrassing; we see young people do that sort of thing sometimes. But Zacchaeus was a tax collector, he was a prominent man in his community. He had a lot of power, and as we know well from the Scriptures, a lot of people had reason to hate him (both for being a tax collector in general, and by his own admission he was unfair to the people). So as a powerful man in the community, he humiliates himself by his willingness to climb into this tree, since he was too short to see over the crowds, he climbed a tree to see Jesus. He was willing to do whatever it would take to accomplish this first goal and desire – see Jesus. We can evaluate somewhat the fervor of our desire by examining what we’re willing to go through, or to suffer, to give up, for the sake of our faith in Christ.

3 – Jesus recognized Zacchaeus’ going out of himself, and Christ speaks to him. We see very clearly in this story the synergy that we mentioned earlier – the end result is Zacchaeus’ salvation, but Zacchaeus had to want it, and he had to do something about it. Obviously, the Holy Spirit was already at work before the beginning of this Gospel Reading: somehow, Zacchaeus had already heard of Jesus, and was already interested. We can’t get caught up in wondering who moves first – God in His Holy Spirit is always moving in the hearts of men, we have to respond by going out of ourselves. We have to leave our comfort zone. Being Christian is not easy; it’s not always comfortable. What the Gospel calls us to is very different from the way the world at large likes to operate – to follow Christ requires a willingness on our part to go against the grain and to follow Christ. And not only the willingness, but we have to do it. And then, in the words of St. Silouan, God sees the desire of our heart and He rushes out to meet it with His love and His grace.

4 – Zacchaeus responds to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t ask Zacchaeus to do anything; there are no demands made in the Gospel reading. Once Zacchaeus was with Christ, he knew what he needed to do, and he was willing to do it. And what he did was enormous – giving away half of his goods and repaying anyone he had cheated four times over. If we’re in the Church for the right reasons, for the love of God and the healing of our souls, then generally speaking we know we’re called to do. We have the Gospels, the Beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the teaching of Fathers on how Christian people are called by our relationship with Christ to live. Again, the story of Zacchaeus asks us the question, “are we willing to change our lives even now?” – we’re all sinful and in need of change no matter how long we’ve been Christians or even Orthodox Christians, we have Lent every year and confession available every day because we all have sins we continue to struggle with. So we have to regularly return to the question, am I willing now to change for Christ (and to be changed by Christ)? We can’t do anything of our power, the Scriptures teach – am I willing to let Christ work a change in me? Zacchaeus answered yes, and the response of the Lord is a beautiful one that we all want to hear.

5 – “Today, Salvation has come to this house.” Christ, salvation incarnate, was in the house of Zacchaeus. But he had also allowed himself to be transformed in Christ. This is the same as hearing on the Great Day of Judgment – “well done my good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23).

So Zacchaeus begins for us some serious considerations, and he poses for us several central and essential questions that we ponder and work through again and again in the Christian life.
Over the course of the next several weeks, the Church will very vividly remind us of both the struggles and the glories of this life in Christ that we’ve chosen.
Use these reminders, and in your evening prayers over the next month I strongly suggest that you spend some time meditating on these things in your heart; preparing yourselves slowly and by the grace of God, to enter into the time of Great Lent in anticipation and with joyful mourning, and with a clear vision of the path of repentance that leads to our Lord’s Pascha.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!