My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.
Today we both end the series of Sundays after Pentecost with this 37th and Final Sunday, and we also begin with the very first commemoration of the new Paschal cycle – with what is called “Zacchaeus Sunday.” Next week, we begin in earnest the period of liturgical preparation for the coming of the Great Fast. Yes, already we must turn our eyes to the fact that the Great Lent is going to be upon us, and it behooves each and every one of us to make the necessary preparations – in body, soul, mind, and heart – to make the Fast one which is profitable and in which the grace of God can work within us in every way which we need it. And so this week, we hear the history of Zacchaeus.
A couple of Sundays ago, we heard the gospel of the healing the blind man – a man who was blind according to the flesh. Today’s Gospel speaks to us aboutthe healing of a man who had been blind in soul – the man called Zacchaeus. This healing of the soul was an even greater miracle than the healing of the blind man at Jericho, because Zacchaeus had suffered a blindness of the inner eyes of the heart, but like the blind man of Jericho, Zacchaeus was made to see the sight of the Lord.
Jesus, in His passing through the whole earth in order to accomplish our salvation, had entered Jericho, accompanied by a multitude of people. One of the inhabitants of Jericho, the man called Zacchaeus, was the wealthy chief of the tax collectors, that is, he was one who collected the tribute imposed on the inhabitants of Judea by the Roman conquerors. The people were not exactly fond of the tax collectors, to say the least, seeing them as servants of a foreign occupier who were only too happy to extort and line their own pockets at the expense of their fellow countrymen under the color of authority.
Now, the name “Zacchaeus” means “pure, righteous, just.” And this man, whose life was in such a contradiction with his name, is moved to see Savior.
A man whose life was far from righteousness wanted to see Christ. What drew him to the Lord? Probably, the grace of God in the soul of Zacchaeus brought about for him the realization of his own iniquity, and he found his own conscience was awakening. His soul, a creation of our Lord by its nature, longed for something higher that what it had, it felt the emptiness of everyday vanity, and Zacchaeus’ very soul itself yearned to see the Savior.
But, as lofty as were the aspirations of his newly awakened soul, still bodily Zacchaeus was of short stature, and was, moreover, in a crowd of people, and he could not see the Lord over the heads of the others gathered there. And so, as we heard in the Gospel, he ran ahead and climbed up into a tree which was standing along the way, so that he might catch but a glimpse of the Divine Saviour.
We can imagine how this tax collector, a man of importance – even if not of popular esteem, a man of material means, rich, would appear to those around him, climbing a tree – though quite possibly not exceptionally gracefully. Comfortably wealthy men do not generally pass their time in climbing trees like children do. But in order to do what he needed to do to see the Lord, Zacchaeus was not afraid to be mocked and laughed at by his fellow citizens. I doubt it even crossed his mind. This is a lesson to us.
Recall from a couple weeks ago that a similar crowd sought to silence the blind man from crying out to the Saviour, interfering with the blind man’s good interior aspirations, attempting to push him aside, becoming an obstacle to his cure and his salvation. So it is with us when the opinion and condemnation of others becomes an obstacle to salvation, and it is can at time be so difficult for us to follow the example of the blind man and of Zacchaeus, in overcoming the mockery and the judgment of the crowd, in showing courage and determination to become free from the slavery of our own egos to the opinion of the world, and to turn to the Lord!
And the Savior Himself saw the good disposition of Zacchaeus, with which Zacchaeus had desired to see the Lord, and the Lord knew that this was not simply an empty curiosity. For there was a great crowd of people there, but it is to Zacchaeus that the Lord turned his attention, since, in the depth of his soul, He saw that it was not in vain that Zacchaeus bears the name of “righteous.” Yes, for the time being this righteousness was deeply hidden in the soul of Zacchaeus, clouded over by all his sinful deeds. But the Saviour saw in him the ability and the disposition to repent and change his whole life.
Our Lord shows his love and mercy to Zacchaeus, approaching the tree on which Zacchaeus was, and addresses him, saying: “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide in thy house.”
Can we even begin to understand what feelings must have taken hold of Zacchaeus when he saw that the Lord was coming to him. Zacchaeus, who in his awakened conscience considered himself a great sinner and did not hope to see Christ close up, but had sought merely to get a glimpse from the tree, suddenly sees the Lord standing before him. Moreover, he hears that Christ the Savior Himself wishes to visit his house.
The Lord, who sees the hearts of men, who knew the heartfelt desire of Zacchaeus, addressed him by name in the sight of the crowds, making it clear that Zacchaeus does not belong to those whose name will be forgotten in eternity, but, on the contrary, that he is loved by Him who is the author of our salvation.
“And when all saw it, they murmured, saying, that he was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner.” The crowd, due to their spiritual blindness, the blindness of their hearts, was unable to see the spiritual reality, enlightened with and by the grace of the Spirit of God. They judged, as usual, according to their own hypocrisy. For while they murmured that our Lord was to be the guest of a sinner, they failed to look at their own hearts to know that they were sinners themselves.
The hypocrite, in the words of Saint John Climacus, is a man who is not afraid of God, but trembles and cowers before people.
Sometimes this is exactly what we are. We will condemn our neighbor, while not fully understanding his actions, not believing in his repentance and rejecting the possibility of his correction. Such judgments are, firstly, unfair and erroneous. Secondly: these judgments are powerless, that is, our judgments cannot influence the judgment of God. Thirdly, in regard to our own actions: whatever we do, we can never please everyone, there will always be those who will defame us. Rumor by its very nature is deceptive, unfounded and unreasonable.
On our part, we ought not to judge the hearts of anyone, as the Fathers assure us. Judgment belongs to God. And should we be ourselves judged, remember the words of the Holy Apostle Saint Paul in his Epistle, when he says: “But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man’s day; but neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of any thing, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me, is the Lord.” (1 Cor. 4:3-4).
Zacchaeus received Christ, rejoicing, and Christ, defying the reproach of the hypocritical crowd, visited the penitent sinner. And it is not only by interior repentance, but also by a good deed, moreover, a very significant one, that Zacchaeus testified to his true repentance, countering his evil deeds by good ones. Zacchaeus, moved by grace in gratitude to the Lord, declared, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wronged any man of any thing, I restore him fourfold.” Let us turn our attention to this, let this be our by-word as we start to prepare ourselves for the Great Fast, for it shows the determination of Zacchaeus to change his life. Thus, Zacchaeus, revealing himself to be righteous in deed as well as in name, overcame those who murmured and demonstrates before all that he had become worthy of repentance in the visit of the Savior.
My dear friends, let us, as we begin our preparation for the journey toward Pascha, take the repentance of Zacchaeus as a model of true repentance. That repentance which is not limited only to fruitless regret for the sins committed, but which also seeks to atone for sins by the doing of good deeds in the grace of God.
Let us go to meet the Great Lent in a new way, like Zacchaeus – boldly, joyfully, overcoming spiritual blindness, to see the only thing that is needed – our Lord – and through repentance to become free people, free from passions, fear, gossip, and greed. By God’s grace we will be rich in a fruitful faith in order to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, to enter into the joy of eternal life, and, like Zacchaeus, to be called by name by the Lord Jesus Christ.