SERMON ON ZACCHAEUS , 1/29/2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Zacchaeus was chief of the publicans – that is, “tax collectors.” What this means, or rather, what the holy fathers tell us is that this means that he had been a man entirely abandoned to his own covetousness, and whose sole objective in life was to increase his material wealth (See Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke.) St Paul calls this kind of mania for material things “idolatry” because “their appetites become their God” as he says in another place (Colossians 3:5, Philippians 3:19). Such people are not only addicted to their desires for more and more, money and things, they are very open about it. Why? Because they have no shame. Those who have no love for God, and those who have no fear of God, also have no shame about their bad behavior. (Witness some recent news coverage!) And as the tax collectors shamelessly made open profession of their vice, the Lord very justly compared them to prostitutes when He said to the Scribes and the Pharisees, "The harlots and the publicans are entering before you into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 21:31). But Zacchaeus did not continue along this evil and destructive path. We don’t know what stirrings of the Holy Spirit finally moved him to action; we don’t know how Zacchaeus finally allowed his heart to open just enough to let God’s voice to speak to him, but this we know - suddenly, he wanted to see Jesus. And by “seeing” I don’t mean look at Him as a curiosity, as a celebrity, or as a passing fad. The Scripture says that Zacchaeus “wanted to see Jesus - Who He was!” and so he began to climb that Spiritual Ladder, that image of the Cross, that symbol of humility, the sycamore tree. And so, the seed of salvation sprang up within him. Here again, Jesus stopped (remember what I said last week about the patience of God?) and with eyes, fully human and fully divine, he looked up at Zacchaeus and had compassion for Him. And behold what happens. The man who before was “little of stature” and small of spirit, was now placed high and lifted up to heaven because of his desire to know Jesus. What is it that St Paul said in Ephesians?
“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Himself in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6).
So, the Lord looks up to Zacchaeus and says, "Come down quickly!" We might be tempted to wonder why Jesus asked him to come down. It was humility that had allowed him to ascend, but now, the Saviour says “Come down, come back to the earth and stand close to me, because we need to be together – at this very moment and on this very spot.” What is the meaning of this? I think it means this: We can only meet Jesus, we can only encounter Jesus, we can only see “Who He is” at this very time, in this very place, in this very moment, on this very earth. So often we allow our thoughts, especially those thoughts introduced by evil and unclean spirits, to carry us away to fantasy lands which have no basis in reality. Only God lives outside of time, we do not. So when we allow our thoughts, our worries, our anxieties to carry us away to terrifying or depressing places in the “future,” we find ourselves in a place where God isn’t. Why? Because the place isn’t real. The Lord Himself says: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
So Jesus brings Zacchaeus back to earth, and places him squarely at His side. And not only that, but the Lord says to Zacchaeus: “Today I must stay in your house.” The wording is important. Some translations have “Today I must stay AT your house, but the Greek is clear, «ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου», IN your house. There is no salvation for Zacchaeus if the Lord doesn’t live “in his house!” When we make the choice to turn our heart into God’s House, the place where God dwells, then we become what God intended each of us to be. Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex has noted, “The great tragedy of our times lies in the fact that we live, speak, think, and even pray to God, outside our heart, outside our Father’s house. And truly our Father’s house is our heart, the place where ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ would find repose, that Christ may ‘be formed in us’. Indeed, only then can we be made whole, and become “persons” (hypostases), in the image of the true and perfect “Person,” the Son and Word of God, Who created and redeemed us by the precious Blood of His ineffable sacrifice. Yet as long as we are held captive by our passions, which distract our mind from our heart and lure it into the ever-changing and vain world of natural and created things, thus depriving us of all spiritual strength, we will not know the new birth from on High that makes us children of God and gods by grace.”
So, dear brothers and sisters, as we approach the preparatory Sundays before Lent, as we anticipate the beginning of the Triodion next week, as we draw near to the Doors of Repentance, let’s keep in mind the example of the small man who became great, the deaf man who suddenly heard God’s voice, the earthly man who soared to heaven, the empty man who became the dwelling place of God, our Father among the saints and Apostle Among the Seventy, Zacchaeus - Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. Amen.