The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (19:1-10)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is once again that time of year when we are reacquainted with a dear long lost friend. The name of this friend is Zacchaeus. Why is he a long lost friend? Because we have not seen him or heard from him for nearly a year. And he is our friend because he gives us a wonderful example of someone who is hungry for Christ and is transformed by Christ. This is part of Christian life, transformation, metamorphosis. But what if we don’t want to make any effort? What if we don’t want to work? What if we don’t want to change? Then we are not demonstrating that we are grateful or worthy of our friend Zacchaeus or our Lord Jesus Christ. If we simply wake up each day and go about our business with no thought for directing our lives to Christ, we are in a sad state. If we come to the church to pray but we don’t intend to do the difficult things that matter, why even bother?
Our friend Zacchaeus shows us the way to capture the heart of Christ. He shows us by his curiosity and eagerness for the things of God. He shows us through his determination and tenacity. He shows us through his humility and repentant heart.
How does he demonstrate his curiosity and eagerness for the things of God? St. Luke tells us that “he sought to see Who Jesus was.” Each one of us has to do the same in our own lives. There is a moment that comes when we have to put aside what others tell us and we have to seek Christ for ourselves. We have to study and search for Him within the gospels and the Holy Scriptures. Now since Zacchaeus was a short man, he had trouble due to the large crowd surrounding Jesus. But since Zacchaeus is our friend, he shows us what we should do whenever we encounter trouble that creates obstacles between us and the Lord. He shows determination and tenacity. He will not take “no” for an answer. He refuses to be a victim of the situation or environment.
In our world many people try to teach you to be a victim. But you were not created to have the mentality and mindset of a victim, rather you were created to be a child of God, a son or daughter of the King. And I want to remind you that our King defeated death itself. When an obstacle presents itself, we don’t lay down for the obstacle, we use what God has given us to go over, around, under or through the obstacle because there is no obstacle that should stand between us and our God. This is precisely what Zacchaeus did. He would not accept his situation but kept pushing forward because there is nothing that should stop our path to Christ.
This is an important principle for us in life, and especially in our prayer life. The world will create all kinds of distractions to our prayers. And even in the act of prayer we will feel all kinds of barriers keeping us from “seeing” God. We feel lazy, we feel like we can’t concentrate, we feel preoccupied, we feel despair and wonder if anything is happening in our prayers. Yet we are encouraged to keep climbing and keep seeking Christ with humility. Zacchaeus showed humility because he climbed a tree just like a little child. He didn’t much care what others thought of him. He didn’t care that they would view him as foolish. He pressed forward and upward towards the goal. Even great masters of prayer like St. Barsanuphius of Optina once said “In the struggle of prayer, it is absolutely necessary to force oneself and compel oneself to pray.”
We can also show humility press forward towards Christ in our prayers and in fact, our prayers won’t get very far unless we do precisely this. Humility along with persistence, yields amazing results. The attitude that we bring to prayer should be one of complete humility and brokenness. We don’t come to Christ in prayer because He needs it. We also don’t pray to keep a routine or go through the motions. We pray because we need His grace and power and healing and we receive these in abundance when we approach with hearts that are open and ready for His help. In order for us to receive Christ we have to have hearts that are softened and open to Him. It means that good prayer is a bit painful because it requires us to pray with intensity while we acknowledge our frailty. Listen to this example of heartfelt prayer from St. Isaac the Syrian,
“At the door of Your compassion do I knock, Lord; send aid to my scattered impulses which are intoxicated with the multitude of the passions and the power of darkness. You can see my sores hidden within me: stir up contrition—though not corresponding to the weight of my sins, for if I receive full awareness of the extent of my sins, Lord, my soul would be consumed by the bitter pain from them. Assist my feeble stirrings on the path to true repentance…”
Since Christ saw the determination and the humility of Zacchaeus, He loved Zacchaeus and invited Himself into the home of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had captured the heart of the One who has captured the heart of mankind. Each of us can be like Zacchaeus. We can capture the heart of the Lord and make our hearts such a warm and inviting place, such a paradise, that the Lord cannot refrain from coming and spending time with us and enjoying fellowship with us and imparting His grace to every aspect of our lives, and when He dwells with us and communes with us, we are truly in paradise and have received our salvation along with our good friend Zacchaeus. May we run to Christ with curiosity, eagerness, tenacity and determination and finally with the humility and repentance of Zacchaeus, who became the friend of God. Glory be to God Forever AMEN.