The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (19:1-10)
Today’s reading welcomes us like an old friend that we have not seen in quite sometime. For those of you who are not yet Orthodox Christians and who haven’t gone through the lenten and pre-lenten cycle, I will point out that this day, Zacchaeus Sunday, is typically a wake up call for us as Orthodox Christians. It tells us that the pre-lenten season is gearing up to start and that the great battle, the spiritual marathon of Great and Holy Lent, the center of the Liturgical year, is not far away now. We are being warned and prepared through these readings for the next few weeks. The spiritual battle is upon us my brothers and sisters and it is time to engage in this battle by practicing, warming up, studying techniques and formations and putting on our armor as sons and daughters of the living God. The children of God were not made for comfort, and ease, they were made for war. War against sin, war against the demonic, war against the flesh.
Today we hear the story of Zacchaeus and when I hear the story of Zacchaeus, I am put to shame. Here is a man who had everything stacked against him and yet he finds a way to our Lord Jesus Christ. While I might have everything in my favor, yet I neglect to run after Christ with zeal every day of my life. Zacchaeus didn’t have the privilege of growing up in a Christian home and yet he hungered to know Christ. We claim to be Christians and yet we often neglect Him in reality. Zacchaeus had obstacles in his path to seeing Christ, such as the fact that he was a short man. He had another obstacle, namely the crowds that were all around the Lord. But somehow Zacchaeus did not let any of those things change his intention and determination to see Jesus that day. We are also put to shame because this man’s heart is pure and humble, he knows that he is a sinner and that he has done wrong to others. Yet in our own lives, we claim to have a relationship with the Lord, but we often feel that we haven’t yet scratched the surface and admitted our sinfulness and weaknesses.
The starting point for Zacchaeus is a desire to see and to know who is Jesus Christ. But that alone is not enough. Seeing Jesus is not enough. One must be ready to follow the example in this story. When we seek Jesus with our whole hearts, He will come to us and try to be a guest in our lives, in our hearts and minds.
So how do we seek Him? Through diligent reading of the gospels on a daily basis and through dedicated time for quiet and undistracted prayers. And how will the Lord respond? In the same way that He responds to Zacchaeus. He will invite Himself into the home of our hearts. But Zacchaeus didn’t stop there. The Lord chose to stay with Zacchaeus, but was Zacchaeus obligated to receive Him? No. He made a choice that day. This choice was not as simple as it may seem. Many of the people around were watching. Some of those men, the scribes and pharisees, thought very badly of Jesus and they would have thought badly of anyone who welcomed Him into their homes. And of course others would have also had suspicions about all of this. Yet Zacchaeus shows tremendous courage and faith. He welcomes the Lord Jesus Christ into his life with no thought for the ways that others might look at him, judge him or reject him. He was faithful before it was fashionable.
In our own day and age it is now increasingly unfashionable to be a Christian. The secular world has co-opted some Christian-ish sentiments and ideas but everything has been perverted and twisted. Christians are no longer the vocal center of society and culture, they are increasingly the hidden minority. We have allowed the secular atheistic world to take control of the narrative of our lives, and this has happened primarily through the public school system and universities. So increasingly we enter into a world that no longer speaks the Christian language and where Jesus Christ is not significant and those who follow Him are more likely to be considered enemies to the secular, godless way of life. In this context, we understand that Zacchaeus may have been small of stature but he was really great in character.
The character and faith of Zacchaeus are seen not only in his determination in the face of the obstacles but in his generous welcoming of the Lord into his home regardless of how others might look at him. The Lord Jesus Christ desires each of us to have the heart of Zacchaeus. In the book of Revelation the Lord Jesus says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” Is Christ knocking at our doors? Is He knocking at the doors of our hearts? Do we hear Him? How do we respond to this knocking? Do we open the door just a little and then shut it again? Do we open it for a minute and speak with Him at the doorstep instead of inviting Him inside? Or do we really open the door wide and embrace Him into our lives? We know what Zacchaeus did.
St. Makarios the Great writes, “The Lord is always knocking at the doors of our hearts, that we may open to Him, that He may enter in and rest in our souls, and we may wash and anoint His feet, and He may make His abode with us….and again He says elsewhere, Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man will open unto Me, I shall come in unto him (Rev. 3:20). To this end He endured to suffer many things, giving His own body unto death, and purchasing us out of bondage, in order that He might come to our soul and make His abode with it…His food and His drink, His clothing and shelter and rest is in our souls. Therefore He is always knocking, desiring to enter into us. Let us then receive Him, and bring Him within ourselves; because He is our food and our drink and our eternal life, and every soul that has not now received Him within and given Him rest, or rather found rest in Him, has no inheritance in the kingdom of heaven with the saints, and cannot enter into the heavenly city…”
The Lord is always knocking, because the Lord loves us with an unimaginable love. How will we respond? Zacchaeus welcomed the Lord and prepared the finest banquet for Him. When Zacchaeus welcomed the Lord into his house, it changed him. He was repentant. He examined himself and his ways. He admitted his sins and offered to correct his past wrongs. His heart was cleansed and transformed through this encounter. He began to shine with the light of Christ.
Each of us has an opportunity to encounter Christ through our reading and prayers but also quite tangibly through receiving holy communion, the precious and holy body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a treasure we have! Are we welcoming Him and embracing Him and allowing Him to cleanse and transform us?
Allow the Lord to enter and to make His abode in you and you will become His holy temple and you will also hear the Lord’s beautiful words “Today salvation has come to this house!” AMEN.