The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (19:1-10)
Today we once again have the privilege and honor of encountering a short man with a big heart. We are once again encountered by the example of the man named Zacchaeus. He is a man who had every excuse to neglect his spiritual life and to continue to live his life on his terms. He could have blamed the crowds or his lack of height. He could have blamed his job as a tax collector. He could have claimed he was busy, as people so often do. But in this moment in history, we see instead the example of a man who actively grabs hold of the kingdom itself! In this moment, a man is harnessing all of his energies and focus on the one needful thing. He is demonstrating to us what it means to seek God and what it means to truly repent.
Through such examples within the pages of holy scripture we are reminded that there is always a way to pursue whatever we set our minds and our hearts to pursue. No one can change this part of us. People can influence you, but no one can force you to set your mind and heart on God and on His kingdom and on His Son Jesus Christ. No one can make these things a priority in your life. One day you have to choose to make the things of God a priority for you. And as we all know, there will always be excuses not to do so. We can say that we are busy with our lives, with work, with social outings, with friends, with school, with movies and games, with yard work, with house work, with preparing meals. Yet Zacchaeus offers us a gentle rebuke.
Oh Zacchaeus, man of God. While the world thirsted for riches, you chased after the riches of the kingdom. While the world attended to their lives, you pursued the One who alone gives true life.
Sometimes we say that we are serious about God. But Zacchaeus went further. He proved it. How did he do this? First he proved it through a relentless desire to see Christ as He was walking by that day. His desire could not be quenched by any alternative to seeing Our Lord Jesus. So when there were no options left, and the crowds were too big, he did what any sane grown up would do, he climbed up a tree! The Lord who knows the hearts of men, recognized Zacchaeus as a man who deeply desired to know Him and to change his life. St. Theophylact writes, “In return only for showing eagerness to see Jesus he receives salvation. He desired to see Jesus, which is why he climbed up into the sycamore tree, but before he had caught sight of Jesus, the Lord had already seen him. In the same manner, the Lord always anticipates us if only He sees that we are willing and eager.”
Our Lord recognizes us by the condition of our hearts. Sometimes our hearts make us strangers and aliens to God and to a holy way of life. Especially when we are prideful and sinful. But sometimes, our hearts are humble and open to Christ and He sees us as hungry for truth and holiness and purity and righteousness. In the prophet Isaiah it is written, “Upon whom shall I look, if not upon him who is humble and meek, who trembles at My words?(Is. 66:2)” He alone is able to see these needs within us and to provide according to His wisdom and goodness. When our heart seeks God truly, God will look at us and say “Make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The place where Christ desires to dwell is within our hearts and minds.
Zacchaeus made haste and went down to host the Lord Jesus in his home. Yet that wasn’t enough. Zacchaeus went further in proving that he was serious about God. He repented publicly and he attempted to go so far as to repay anyone that he had defrauded or injured through his shady and dishonest dealings as a tax collector. It wasn’t enough to say “sorry.” He lived his apology. He set out to make things right with man in order that he would truly make things right with God. Have we as Christians demonstrated such love and devotion to God in our own lives? Have we repented in a way that shows that we are serious? Have we gone out of our way to make things right with those that we might have wronged or hurt in the past? These actions not only help us grow in virtue but they are seeds for the growth of those that we might have hurt or wronged. When someone sees us taking responsibility for our sins and failings they might begin to think seriously of how our encounter with God began to change our life. They might see and even desire such change for themselves.
Most of all, the Lord Himself will see that we have changed just as the changes within this man Zacchaeus continued because he truly desired to know Christ at a deeper level.
St. Nikolai of Zicha writing about this passage says,
“Today, salvation has come to this house” said the Lord upon entering the house of Zacchaeus the sinner. Christ was the salvation that came and Zacchaeus was the house into which He entered. Brethren, each one of us is a house in which sin dwells as long as Christ is distant and to which salvation comes when Christ approaches it. Nevertheless, will Christ approach my house and your house? That depends on us. Behold, He did not arbitrarily enter the house of the sinner Zacchaeus, rather He entered as a most desired guest. Zacchaeus of little stature climbed into a tree in order to see the Lord Jesus with his own eyes. Zacchaeus, therefore, sought him; Zacchaeus desired Him. We must also seek Him in order to find Him and desire Him in order that He would draw nearer to us and, with our spirit, to climb high in order to encounter His glance. Then He will visit our house as He visited the house of Zacchaeus and with Him salvation will come…”
St. Nikolai ends with this prayer “Draw near to us O Lord, draw near and bring to us Your eternal salvation. To You be glory and thanks always. Amen.” AMEN.