The Sunday Of Zacchaeus

Luke 19:1-10

And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. {2} And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. {3} And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. {4} And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. {5} And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. {6} And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. {7} And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. {8} And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. {9} And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. {10} For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. [1]

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, one of the five Sundays that immediately precede Great Lent. This is the first Sunday that we begin to speak of things specifically to prepare ourselves for the Great fast. Why would the Holy Spirit select this reading to prepare us for the Great Fast? Well, it is the story of a man who repents. It is a story of how a soul converts. It shows how a soul changes. Isn't that the purpose of our life? It is to change, to become like Christ, to become pure. Great Lent is the time of the year when we must focus more diligently on repentance.

Zacchaeus changed, through the agency of the God-man, Jesus Christ, and also though an application of his will. He is a case study in how to live the Christian life, how to DECIDE to change, how to STRUGGLE to change, and how, after ACCEPTING God's mercy, to RESOLVE to continue to amend and become better. All these elements are in this story.

Zacchaeus was a publican (the Apostle says that he was the chief among them), and he was rich. This definitely indicates that he was a very evil man in the beginning of his life. He also defrauded many men. Publicans were not just those who collected taxes. They were invariably corrupt, and often swindlers, and murderers and thieves. They would rob widows so they could have ivory in their palaces. Zacchaeus was the worst of the lot, he was "top dog", but his conscience bothered him. Even in the midst if his flagrant conduct, there was a small seed in him, waiting to grow. It troubled him, and told him that "what I am doing is wrong, what I am doing is not fulfilling. What I am doing is evil and wretched and corrupt." These pangs went on for a good many years, since it takes a long time to become the CHIEF publican. During that period of time, he was developing a conscience. Zacchaeus was a Jew, although a terrible one. Certainly, he knew about the Jewish law, and about the Messiah. He heard the things about Jesus. Indeed, as the chief publican, he was probably given the most important seat in gatherings, by the chief hypocrites, the Pharisees, and Sadduces. He probably heard about Christ often. When he heard of him, he somehow understood that there was something magnificent about Him, and in the midst of his personal depravity, he wanted to find out. His curiosity about holy things will lead to his redemption, just as it did for St. Mary of Egypt.[2]

It says that He wanted to see Jesus, Who He was, but he could not, "for the press". [3] Do you remember, wasn't it last week, when we talked about the press?

[4] The blind man wished healing from Christ, and had to shout to make himself heard over the cacophony of the press. He was told over and over "Be quiet, be quiet, don't bother Him." What is the press? It is our passions, our sins, doubts, despondency, and our laziness. Sometimes it is others who tell us that we are crazy, or that's not my way of life, why are you being so fanatical? Both inside and outside the church we get this sort of warfare and temptations. This is the press.

Zacchaeus could not, for the press, because he was little of stature. He was small, and weak. He was unable to see God without some help. He ran before Christ, knowing the way of Christ, where He was going to go. If he had climbed in a tree in the suburbs somewhere, he would not have seen Christ, because the God-man was making his way through the middle of the city of Jericho. He had to be where Christ was going to be. We spoke about that last week, and the same meaning is here this week. You must be in the way of Christ, so Christ can come to you, and say come down, as He said the Zacchaeus.

It is interesting to see what "sycamore tree" means. It means a "wild and unruly fig tree." It has a fruit that is kind of silly looking, and entirely useless. It does not bear fruit. It bears garbage. So he climbs up in a wild and unruly tree. We should think of our human nature when we contemplate this tree. Our nature is wild and unruly, but somehow, with God's help we can tame this unruly nature, and we are able to elevate our thoughts to heavenly and important things. This is what Zacchaeus did. He climbed up in a tree, elevating his thoughts to the God-man. He took his nature and used it for godly purposes, instead of dissipation. We must take the nature that God gave us and use it for godly purposes, instead of drunkenness or debauchery, or fantasy about what we wish our lives would be, or pride, or despondency or all those other things with which we indulge ourselves. Instead, we must contemplate God, and good works and the fulfilling of the commandments.

Let us too climb up a sycamore tree and elevate our thoughts. Let us also, whilst elevating our thoughts, fix our concentration carefully. While Zacchaeus was up in the tree, he certainly was not examining the bark or the leaves. He was looking intently, shading his eyes, and watching to see when and where the God-man would appear. He was also being ridiculed. You can imagine that such a man who was chief among the publicans certainly ate fine food, and was a bit portly. A little fat man in a tree would be a very funny thing to see. We as Christians also feel exposed in our unruly fig tree. The world tells us that what we are doing is foolish. Even other Orthodox jeer at us and tell us what we are doing is foolish. Even we torment ourselves by asking: "what is the point, what is the use?" We war against ourselves, others war against us, the demons war against us, and sometimes we wonder who IS on our side, when we forget that the whole host of heaven with the God-man Jesus Christ is with us. Be like Zacchaeus. We are like him in sin, so we should be like him in virtue. We should climb up into the tree, and fix our thoughts on Christ, and not be unduly concerned about the other things that are going on in our life.

Zacchaeus was a great sinner. Why would he have any reason to think that the God-man would want anything to do with such a terrible sinner? In the same way, why should we have any reason to think that the God-man would want anything to do with us? We promise we will not commit a sin, and we do it the next day. We promise to try, and yet we make very little effort. Why? Because the God-man has said that he wants to save us. Because "He who began a good work in you will complete it" [5], so says the apostle.

The questions that I just posed are the ones the demons entice us to ask. Zacchaeus was a man of great soul, because even though he was depraved, he had the courage to do something about his depravity, even to the point of exposing himself, and hoping that the God-man would heal him. We must do this.

We have an advantage that Zacchaeus lacked. He did not know for sure what the outcome of his seeking Christ would be. We do. The church tells us all the time. God will receive our repentance if we try to make an effort. So any of this that goes on in our head, things like "I am not doing enough, it is not worth it even to try. I broke the fast today, so the rest of the day is shot," those kinds of thoughts are strictly the evil one trying to further sully you and bring you down, down, down. We must be like Zacchaeus. He knew he was a great sinner, and yet he still climbed the tree.

I told you before, and I will say it again and again, salvation is won by LIVING in Christ! We must act according to what we know. We already know that we are great sinners, but we also know that God is great, and wishes to save us and has made us able to be saved, via the incarnation and the life we are told to live in the church. We must climb into the tree, and hope in His mercy, and He will give us mercy.

Now Christ comes up to the tree, and sees this small fat man gazing down at him, and says something remarkable. "Zacchaeus, come down, because I am going to dwell in your house today." [6] Christ saw Zacchaeus' intent, and recognized him. This moment happens to us as well. Sometimes we recognize it, other times we don't know.

I was told this many times, and I have already lost track of how many times I have said it myself - the Christian life is a long process. There are many days that we feel we make no progress whatsoever, but our perseverance will win us the prize. That is the truth. It is a truth that is obscured by the world, but it is the truth. Zacchaeus had his time when the Lord told him to come down. He assured Zacchaeus that He had received his repentance, and would make him a new man. We have our times as well. There are thousands of these times in a man's life, when God enlightens him, and vivifies him, and helps him in some way. We must increase our vision because this happens all the time, and we do not notice.

Zacchaeus is joyful, and brings the Lord to his house to have a great feast. Now, there are some people, there is the press still, that is murmuring. What is the world is Jesus doing with such a sinner? Well, you cannot see inside a man, which is reserved for God alone. God saw the repentance of this man, who was still a short fat man with much riches, at that moment. Be careful. We have all judged someone too many times.

We have seen that Zacchaeus was a great sinner, who developed a conscience. Because of his conscience, he was motivated to try, and to seek out Christ. Now let us see that after repentance and the acceptance of God's mercy comes something else. We must have firm resolve to do better. Zacchaeus heard all this murmuring about him, and he was hurt by it. He wanted to show the Lord that he really did want to change, so he told Him, and the people that were around that if he had taken anything from a man by false accusation, he would restore him fourfold, and half of his goods he would give to the poor. [7] Since he got most of what he had through deceit, he just made himself pauper, and his mathematics was not too good. But his soul was burning with zeal, and God received his repentance, and Zacchaeus went on to live a fervent Christian life. Notice also how Christ waited until Zacchaeus expressed firm resolve to live a moral life before He declared that salvation was come to his house. [8]

Can you discern three aspects of repentance now? One is that a man develops a conscience, and then he strives to find Christ, in the midst of the "press". And another is that he must accept that God will receive him. Zacchaeus came out of the tree, and was joyful. A sinner came down, and felt the love of God, and accepted that God could save him. And then, when troubles occur, we must have the resolve to continue to live the Christian life. Zacchaeus does us the great favor of showing us repentance in microcosm. Let us all learn something from him

I have heard so many say to me " I don't see any change in my life, and I don't feel anything." The way we find change in our life, and the way we see and feel God is by struggle, and by time. There is no other solution. The church knows nothing else, but toil, ands prayer, and hope. We must fix ourselves in the way of Christ, and elevate our thoughts, God will come up to our unruly tree, and will touch us, continually, over and over. Eventually, His touch will be so real to us that everything else will be as a phantom. God help you to struggle, and persevere, in the midst of all your trials and difficulties, so that when God calls to you, you will hear, and come down from your unruly way of life, and He will abide in you.

Amen.


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