Zacchaeus Sunday

Luke 19:1-9

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sometimes when we are working on a project, for example planting a garden, or drawing a picture, it is helpful to walk around the project, view it from a different perspective, a different vantage point. Sometimes, just by doing this, we gain a broader and more full understanding. We may also apply this to our spiritual life. As Christians we must war continually against the temptation to become spiritually stale and apathetic towards our own state, towards our own personal relationship with Christ, and our attitude toward the church. Many times, we can become comfortable with our state, because we lack a certain perspective, that of eternity, what we will face after our death. If we have fallen prey to this, we should remember that the tools and gifts of the Church may help us to gain a new perspective and a fresh start. We may always being anew. This is one of the greatest gifts of the Orthodox Church. We have the sacrament of confession and another day, if God permits it to us, to read the lives of the saints or begin our prayer rule again. These may all be used to strengthen our zeal and to gain a new perspective. But really, it comes down to forcing ourselves to do what is right. Ultimately, we have to force ourselves, because if we wait until we feel like doing it, I’m afraid all of us would be lazy. The Holy Fathers tell us that if we force ourselves to do good – to say our prayers, for example, even when we don’t feel like it (and who feels like it), then God will see our efforts and He will send his grace to help us and guide us. And we will gain strength even if we don’t ourselves sense that we are gaining anything. We have to struggle in order to be accustomed to virtue. If we have disabilities, as did Zacchaeus, we should not use them as an excuse not to follow Christ. Zacchaeus didn’t. Rather, he found a way, and God rewarded his desire.

This Sunday marks 5 Sundays before Great Lent begins! Yes, dear brothers and sister, 5 weeks from now, we will have entered the Lenten discipline. The Church in her wisdom, knows our weakness, knows our inclination toward comfort, so it starts preparing us for the great preparation! In other words, Lent is a preparation for Pascha, and these 5 Sundays preceding Lent are a preparation for Lent. And is not our life to be one of preparation for the life to come. So, we see, as Orthodox Christians, our life is to be lived as in preparation of something. The Church knows our weakness. We need soberness, we need reminders, and we need these days to keep our souls in check. For, if we are honest, we can say truly that we are all inclined toward comfort, toward relaxation. But in today’s gospel, we meet a man – Zacchaeus – and Zacchhaeus was a man of desire, as the Holy Father say. He lived in Jericho, a town in the Jordan River Valley. Jesus came through his historic little town, and Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Being a short man, however, he couldn't see over the crowds, so he climbed a tree to get a new perspective. And from the tree he was able to see Jesus clearly.

Jesus saw Zacchaeus, and stayed at his house. To imagine Jesus going through the door of Zacchaeus' house is reminiscent of a passage from the Book of Revelation, "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” Christ stands at the door--the door to our hearts, the door to our souls, and knocks. Zacchaeus opened his door with delight, but he would not have been able to do this, had he not been properly prepared in his heart to meet Christ. He Met Christ and he gained a new perspective: experiencing the love that only Christ can give, he became generous with his wealth, giving half of what he had to the poor, and vowing to repay anyone he had cheated four times over. By climbing a tree and standing above the crowds, and by opening the door of his heart to Christ, Zacchaeus gained a new perspective, and this new perspective was founded on grace and repentance, and by these virtues, he found new meaning and purpose to his life.

A new perspective can do just that, but we need the grace of God to transform us. It is not something that we can manufacture on our own. And this grace, which comes through desire and through repentance, can also feel threatening… as we look at some of the people present that day in Jericho: they could only criticize and condemn Jesus for his words and actions. They complained, "He has gone to stay at a sinner's house." They didn't want to see the larger picture; they didn't want a new perspective; they preferred the familiarity of their narrow and self-interested ways of thinking. They had become comfortable in their apathetic state. And this is a scary place to find oneself. How often we feel comfortable in our ungodly state. I remember once a priest said to me: “One should never be comfortable, but rather should struggle continually.” How often do we find ourselves so comfortable that we feel no need to repent. God’s reality and divine truth is more complex than our limited view. Looking at Zacchaeus as our example we may eagerly seek God in a new, grace-filled perspective. But it wasn’t just his view from the tree that gave him the correct perspective; it was his desire to overcome. We must have this desire to overcome whatever it is that keeps us from repenting, from seeing Christ. Then, as St. Paul says, rather than conforming to this world, like Zacchaeus, we will be transformed by the renewal of our minds.

We have a week coming up that is fast-free, but it is given to us as a grace, in preparation for something greater. Even the Church calendar doesn’t give us too long to be comfortable in non-fasting……we feast, and then we get a few weeks to “prepare” for Lent and then the Great Fast is upon us again. The Church calendar continually reminds that we ought not to be too comfortable in this world, because we seek a continuing city to come, and now we struggle now so as to attain virtue for the sake of Christ. If we force ourselves, with God’s help, we will see our circumstances and struggles through the eyes of Zacchaeus, with a newly founded perspective … one that will help us struggle to see Christ as He really is, which in turn will allow us to clearly see ourselves.
Amen.