The walls of Jericho and the heart of Zacchaeus

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 19:1-10Tissot_The_Taking_of_Jericho

Each and every person has obstacles to overcome in order to truly see God.  Today we hear about a man who had many obstacles to overcome.  Zacchaeus was both rich and short.  Both of these obstacles are physical or material in nature.  Both of them are material issues but both of them have potential consequences for the spiritual life of this man.  This is always the case when we encounter or rather are encountered by the Lord Jesus.

It seems to me that at one point or another Jesus is always passing through our lives, just as He passed through the lives of those who lived in Jericho that very day.  Perhaps we think about Him briefly as we go through the day.  Perhaps we see something that reminds us of Him for a second or two.  Maybe it is a church we drive by or a billboard along the highway.  How do we take this brief thought and turn it into an encounter with the living God?  We follow the example of Zacchaeus.

When people speak about the grace of God, we sometimes get the picture that God simply chooses to save us almost randomly.  That He is saving us with no action whatsoever on our part.  What I learn from Zacchaeus ought to be applied to my whole life and to how we understand our salvation (which is a fancy word for our relationship with God).

God’s grace is step one to our salvation just as it was that day in Jericho.  God’s grace looks like Jesus Christ passing through the town of Jericho.  God could have chosen another town that day.  The Lord could have chosen to stay in the heavens instead of becoming like one of us.  But He chose to reveal and present Himself to those people in that particular corner of the world, freely, by His grace.

What do we learn from Zacchaeus about grace?  It is our effort to make use of the grace of God that sets us apart from the crowd.  Our Lord Jesus could have chosen any one of the many hundreds of people in Jericho to sit and to dine with.  He didn’t choose the one who was the tallest or the most beautiful or the most powerful or even the friendliest.  He chose the one who cared enough to go out of his way to see Him.  He chose the one who would do whatever was necessary regardless of how that would make him appear to others.  He chose the one who wanted Him most.

The Lord tells us that unless we become like little children we cannot inherit the Kingdom.  Zacchaeus demonstrates the curiosity, the tenacity and the humility of a little child as he climbs the great tree that will bring him to salvation.  Notice the order of things: The Lord went to Zacchaeus first.  Next, Zacchaeus climbed the tree to get a clearer picture of the Lord. Finally, the Lord chose to dine with Zacchaeus.

So we see that Zacchaeus was separated by his effort and his humility but there is something else that made him a friend of God.  He felt a real pain and hunger for the Lord.  Do we have this pain or this hunger to know Our Lord in a deeper way, more intimate way?  He was a man who was weighed down by his sins as a rich tax collector.  What separated him from the crowd was his recognition of his own sinfulness.

In our world of instant gratification it is hard to slow down and see that the spiritual life is a struggle.  It requires more than wishful thinking or simply waiting on the grace of God.  God has shown you His grace.  He has given you forgiveness of sins through His only Son as a free gift.  He has given you the Holy Scriptures and the New Testament and the writings of the Church Fathers as free gifts.  He has given you this Church and the life of prayer as a free gift.  He has given us fellow worshippers and strugglers to lean on and learn from.  He hands us all of these things because He loves us and as Father, He could never imagine holding back such gifts from His children.  We want instant results, God wants us to grab all these branches of grace and climb the tree of faithfulness through obedience.

This requires a fierce struggle.  We have to fight with the crowds (a symbol of our busyness in life).  We have to fight with our own stature (a symbol of our faults and shortcomings, our sins).  We have to fight with our riches (a symbol of our pride and self-reliance).  If we attach great importance or great weight to all of these things, we will have a heck of a time trying to climb this tree.  All of those things are holding us down.  The Lord came and dined with Zacchaeus because Zacchaeus let go of all those weights.  He laid aside all earthly cares.  He demonstrates the words of the Apostle Paul who writes “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).  And Zacchaeus did just that.

Joshua took the Israelites and marched around the city walls of Jericho bringing it down in 7 days.  But at the mere presence of the Lord Jesus, the walls of Zacchaeus’s heart melted away and left him exposed and conquered by divine love.  You can also have this encounter like Zacchaeus….but you must grab at the branches God has given you and climb the tree of faithfulness and soon you will find that Christ is truly present in your homes and in your lives.  And Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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