Glory to Jesus Christ!
My dear friends in our Lord, there’s a familiar phrase that comes to us from the first chapter of the book of Job, and that is: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” It remains as true today as it was when it was first uttered.
The passage of time is a continual experience of give and take, and of course all that is, including time itself, belongs to the Lord.
Sometimes, it seems like time passes far more quickly that we had been realizing. The Church understands this, and she provides constant reminders for us of the passage of time during this life, so that we might turn our eyes to the unchanging constancy of eternity. The Lord gives us this time, and if we are good stewards of the time we have received, we find that the Lord takes away our sin. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
So that we might be good stewards of what we have received, even if all we have is time, the Church does give us reminders and signposts along the way, to draw our minds to the work at hand. Today, we have exactly such a reminder, as we hear the Gospel of the calling of Zacchaeus.
It’s a double reminder for us, since we have not only the lesson of the Lord’s call to Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus’ generous response to that call – but we also have the lesson which is the simple fact that this is the last Sunday before we begin our preparation for Lent. Next Sunday already is the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, the first of the four pre-Lenten Sundays. We have not even yet bid good-bye to the season of the Nativity, and the Church calls our minds to what is coming, and to the importance of spending our time well in preparation and in penance. For the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. While we have in our power what the Lord has given us, let us make good use of it for our sanctification and for His glory.
To this end, we hear today of the calling of Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collector at Jericho. Tax collectors were held in fairly low regard, and they were seen by the jewish community as traitors since they worked for the Roman Empire, and they were widely considered to be corrupt – which history tells us they probably often were.
So we have Zacchaeus, the tax-collector. Becuase of his position, he would have been a fairly important and wealthy man, but also a fairly unpopular and certainly untrusted man. Think of it in our own day – think of the most wealthy men that you know of, and you see that along with that wealth there also comes a certain amount of distrust from the rest of us. And it’s most often well-deserved distrust. That’s the social position that Zacchaeus was in.
Nevertheless, Zacchaeus, hearing that Our Lord was going to be passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem, he wants to see the Lord. And so he goes out to see the Lord as He passed. Now, as the Gospel tells us, Zacchaeus was short in stature and so was unable to see the Lord because of the crowd surrounding Him. So Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree standing along the path. When the Lord came to where Zacchaeus was, He looked up at the sycamore tree and called out to Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down, for He intended to spend the day at his house.
The crowd was shocked and murmured that the Lord would lower Himself to enter the house of a sinner. But so the Lord did – and we see then that Zacchaeus was moved in repentence, and said: “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.” And the Lord said to him: “This day is salvation come to this house,” for, “[T]he Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
“This day is salvation come to this house,” our Lord said that to Zacchaeus, and He says it also to you, this day. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away: and today the Lord giveth the invitation, He giveth the good news that salvation is come unto your house. Our Lord today giveth the invitation to you by name, just as He did to Zacchaeus – the invitation that this day He desires to abide in your house.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away: He giveth the invitation, and He taketh away the shame of sin. He giveth grace and He taketh away want and need. He taketh away the old man within us, and giveth the new man, created in righteousness and holiness of truth.
But the Lord does not do all this without us. There is here no give and take without participation. He calls us to be active participants and co-operators in this work. Look at the desire and resolve of Zacchaeus. He did not let public opinion of him or even his own physical stature stop him from doing what he needed to do to lay eyes on the Lord, to see who He was. He certainly might not have even expected the Lord to take any note of him. He simply wanted to behold the Lord. So also should we. The Lord, then, will more than amply supply the rest, providing the opportunity to do far greater things, as He did for Zacchaeus.
We do well now, my friends, as we stand ready to prepare ourselves for the work of the coming Lent, to do what we must to be like Zacchaeus: to disregard public opinion, to go out of our way, to use any tool at our disposal, even to climb a tree if we have to, in order that we might be able to turn our eyes toward Him, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the the goal of all that we do.