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Zacchaeus Sunday
You’ve all seen the Geico commercial from 2013 that’s now being shown again on TV’s all across the land. A camel is seen strolling through an office and says: Uh-oh! Guess what day it is! Guess what day it is! Huh? Anybody? Julie! Hey...guess what day it is! Ah come on, I know you can hear me. Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it Mike? Huh? Guess what day it is!”
An unamused yet resigned woman at her desk reluctantly replies: “It’s hump day.”
Well, this isn’t Wednesday, this isn’t hump day, but I’m kind-of excited about this day. Do you know why? Do you know what day this is? THIS is Zacchaeus Sunday! This is the Sunday before the beginning of the Lenten Triodion, the Постнаѧ Трїωдь, and that’s exciting! So, what, exactly, IS the Lenten Triodion, you might ask. Well, it's the Church’s liturgical book that provides us with all the specials hymns and texts for the Great and Holy 40-Day Fast, the weeks leading up to the Fast, and includes all of Holy Week too. For those of us who follow the ustav, the “rule” of the Russian Orthodox Church, we ALWAYS know when the Lenten Triodion is about to appear because on the Sunday before it starts we ALWAYS hear the Gospel reading that tells us about Zacchaeus, the repentant tax-collector, who desired, more than anything, to see Christ.
The Holy Fathers placed today's Gospel here to prepare us, little by little, for the dawning of the season of Great Lent. Knowing that we are basically slow to exhibit a desire for repentance, the Holy Fathers, by Zacchaeus' example, teach us in these preliminary weeks the need to recognize our sins, our need to turn away from them, and our need to always seek our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now Zacchaeus, was an earnest and wealthy chief tax-collector appointed by the Romans to gather the Roman taxes from the citizens of Jericho. The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke describes him and his situation as we heard in the Gospel reading this morning in Luke 19:1-10. We learned from this passage that Zacchaeus was very short, and because of this, he knew he would be unable to see the Lord Jesus Christ as He was passing through Jericho. He had a brilliant idea, though, he climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him. Smart, huh? Where do you think he got that idea from? His own intelligence? Partly. From the Holy Spirit? Absolutely! But I think the Holy Spirit inspired and his brain reacted to what he observed around him. I think he took his cue from the children. Don't you? Kids are always having to deal with the problem of being too short. I bet Zacchaeus saw what the children were doing, and he imitated them. After all, what does the Gospel say, “Truly I say unto you, Unless you turn around, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3.) Now this action of climbing a tree like a kid had to be humiliating for Zacchaeus, but it didn't stop him. He disregarded the embarrassment. He willingly became a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Cornthians 4:10).  And what happened as a result? The Lord saw and acknowledged the humility, the good effort, and the sincere faith of Zacchaeus, so He called him by name and announced His wish to be a guest in his house, saying to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5).
Zacchaeus accepted this call with all his soul, and he rushed with complete joy and received the Lord Jesus into his home and offered Him hospitality eagerly. It wasn't only because he believed in Christ with all his soul that he hosted Him with such willingness, but also because he actively repented for his former sins, and he said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold" (Luke 19:8). We see by this example that sincere repentance inspires generosity toward God. That’s why almsgiving is always an integral part of the lenten journey – almsgiving towards God via support for the Church, and almsgiving towards God via support of the poor.
Now, going back to the meal with Zacchaeus and his family. The jealous and wicked Pharisees couldn't stand this, and the Gospel says they all murmured, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner"" (Luke 19:7); but the Lord, who knows the hearts of everyone, looked into the heart of Zacchaeus and, honoring the genuineness of his repentance, forgave and blessed him and all his household, saying, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham" (Luke 19:9).
Zacchaeus' conversion, (because that's what it was), offers us two important lessons: first, God's compassion flows like a river when we confess our sins with a heart-felt desire to repent, and second, God blesses us with abundant grace when we PROVE our words with our actions. In this, the good Zacchaeus even exceeded the Law of Moses in his generosity, and for that reason, he was accounted worthy of the Lord's blessing.
So whatever became of Zacchaeus the diminutive tax-collector? After the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord, the sacred tradition of our church tells us that Zacchaeus became one of the 70 apostles, and a disciple of the Holy Apostle Peter, who afterwards ordained him Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. His memory is celebrated on April 20.
So, dear ones, the Holy Fathers, knowing the weakness of our human nature, and the difficulty involved for us to change from a sinful, and self-centered life to one of humility and repentance, placed this Gospel lesson before us today to instill in us a desire to repent and to see Jesus, just like Zacchaeus had. Having his example before us, let us now begin to prepare ourselves mentally for the approaching podvig, the spiritual and physical struggle, of the Great Fast. Let us begin to prepare ourselves for our journey to Golotha, and to that Holy and Life-giving Tree of the Cross. Let us prepare ourselves to climb that Tree in humility and sincerity, in order that we might be made worthy to behold Jesus, resurrected and glorified.
Through the prayers of the Holy Apostle Zacchaeus, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.