The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (19:1-10)
It is now Zacchaeus Sunday. This means that the time is near. The great and holy struggle of Lent in not too far away. In fact, Lent will begin on March 2nd but before we ever reach the start of Lent, the Church will try to give us the prerequisites and prepare us for the spiritual school of Great Lent.
When I hear the story of Zacchaeus, I cannot help but feel that a mirror is held up to each of us. We look at Zacchaeus and we can see that perhaps we have fallen short of his level of desire for God. I can say, I desire God, but I don’t desire to see God in the way that Zacchaeus desired to see God. I am repentant, but I am not seriously repentant in the way that Zacchaeus was seriously repentant.
When we hear the words of the holy gospel, we should let it be a mirror that reflects back to us and allows us to see ourselves. The gospel is also like a light that shines brightly on our imperfections. We often try to hide those imperfections, because we want to appear beautiful. But God is not interested in our appearing beautiful. He wants to actually transform us into beautiful people. When we look at ourselves we see minor imperfections, but God sees major spots and blemishes on our souls. He wants to cleanse us and heal us and remove these blemishes before they become cancerous tumors on the soul.
So today we see Zacchaeus, a man that we know and love through this story. His determination and tenacity in the face of all obstacles between him and a vision of the Lord are legendary. Our children all know songs about Zacchaeus. He puts my efforts to shame. When I see how he struggled to see Jesus Christ. When I see how he ignored all of the difficulties and pressed onward and upward, I am left inspired. Each one of us has reasons why we have not really struggled and made a concerted effort to see God and to know God. For one, he works too much. For another, he is too busy correcting the faults of others. For another, he is too busy working and building up his businesses. For another, she is busy with the housework and there is never time for a break. For yet another, she is busy on social media or chatting with friends. Yet others are busy with entertaining themselves, finding the next movie, the next show that takes them out of this reality of life and into fantasy.
We have a multitude of reasons for our slackness in seeking Jesus Christ. And the truth is that all of our excuses are rubbish. If a rich tax collector of a high stature in society, is willing to overcome all the distractions and obstacles around him and humble himself and look like a fool to climb into a tree and see Jesus, then our reasons for not seeking Christ more faithfully, are probably not that good. We can put this another way. If we have a reason why we aren’t devoting ourselves to seeking God in our life, then we probably don’t have our life properly ordered.
Zacchaeus also had a disordered life. He was rich, he stole money from others in a legal way, through collecting taxes, but taking a little extra for himself. All of us have lived disordered lives at some point, maybe we are living disordered lives now. Zacchaeus teaches us that the first step to change is desiring something better. In this case, it is desiring someone better. When I look at Zacchaeus, I can say honestly, that I don’t desire to see the Lord Jesus Christ with the same desire as Zacchaeus. If I did have that great desire, I would spend more time finding the Lord Jesus in the 4 gospels. I would spend more time struggling to pray fervently and focusing, not simply going through the motions and words of prayer. And what would the Lord Jesus Christ give me, give us in return? He would give us new life and boundless joy.
St. Nicholai (Velimirovich) of Zicha preached some beautiful words about this gospel text. He said
“Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, becomes fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.
“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.”
May we struggle faithfully to see Jesus Christ in our lives and we will not be surprised when we also see Him dwelling in our hearts. AMEN.