Homily preached at the New Orleans Mission Station, Zacchaeus Sunday

1 Timothy 4:9-15; Luke 19:1-10

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 we have the first of the “named” Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent–Zacchaeus Sunday. We’ll spend the next several weeks contemplating and preparing for the beginning of the Fast. Today we have the story of Zacchaeus, and we’ll move forward to hear about the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and finally, Forgiveness Sunday. Each of these days calls on us to begin examining our lives. It is that “the unexamined life is not worth living”(Socrates) – the Church certainly seems to put this notion in front of our minds with great frequency and consistency. In the daily prayers, we reflect on our day – how have I lived? How have I failed? How have I done good? We’re called to regular confession – bringing before God our sins and our struggles, and also our thoughts and our dreams, everything we are. We are in a constant state of self-examination and reflection, and we amp that up even higher as we approach and especially when we’re in Great Lent.

Zacchaeus was a pretty terrible guy. He was a Jew, but he worked for the Roman government as a tax collector. In the eyes of his fellow Jews, that already made him a traitor. In addition, he cheated people, he overtaxed and kept the profits for himself. So he was a traitor, a liar, and a cheat, and probably more. We don’t know exactly why Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus so badly, but we can surmise that he’d heard that there was a great Prophet traveling around and working miracles. So, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short, and the crowds were too large. He just couldn’t get to a good spot to see from. In order to get what he wants, he stoops to doing something humiliating. He, as a grown man and a government official, climbs a sycamore tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Then, something entirely unexpected happens – Jesus stops, calls Zacchaeus by name, and says that he will come to stay at his house. Zacchaeus comes down from the tree, and receives Jesus joyfully, the Gospel said. The people around Jesus complain that he’s gone to be a guest with a sinner, but we see that our Lord does this on many occasions during His ministry. As He says elsewhere, He’s come to save the lost sheep of the tribe of Israel – He’s come from the sinner, not for the Saint.

From the moment that Zacchaeus sees Jesus, we notice that he starts to change. He becomes filled with joy, and happy to have this holy man come to his home, even though he lives as a great sinner. Zacchaeus is entirely changed by his meeting with the Lord – the Fathers say this is of utmost importance in the life of any Christian, to have at least one meeting with the Lord. That meeting is what changes everything. For Zacchaeus this means giving half his goods to the poor, restoring what he’d stolen 4 times over, and moving forward with life in an honest and God-fearing way. Jesus then speaks the result of Zacchaeus’ conversion – “today salvation has come to this house.” It wasn’t a long, drawn out process. Zacchaeus met the Lord, was changed in his heart, and salvation came to his house. It reminds me of that great saying of the Desert Fathers – that if we truly desired it with all of our hearts, we could be saved in a single moment.

So today, the Church sets before us several things in the story of Zacchaeus, which I’ll phrase in terms of self-examination (since I began the homily that way). When we look into our hearts, how are we living our lives? Are we obsessed with our own will and desires, living for the flesh and material things, like Zacchaeus was in the beginning of the Gospel? Or are we trying to seek the path of the Gospel of Christ? Have we had that fateful meeting with Christ? If so, are we struggling to maintain that great grace within us, and to share it with others? If not, are we living the Gospel and growing ever closer to Christ, “proving to Him that we are His,” as Elder Sophrony would say?

I love that quote I began with – The unexamined life is not worth living. Let us not waste our lives by refusing to examine them and make the tough decisions that might entail. The examined life might be a struggle to fulfill, but the unexamined one is hollow, fulfilling nothing and no one. Let us begin this pre-Lenten season by examining our own lives in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson