The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 19:1-10
We have many rules of etiquette in our society, although they are certainly relaxed compared to the standards of society throughout the ages. One of those rules is that you should never, ever invite yourself over to someone’s house for dinner. It is rude, and inconsiderate, even pretentious to do so. The story of Zacchaeus is a story about Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ inviting Himself to another’s house and changing that house forever by His presence. We all agree that it is rude and inconsiderate to invite oneself over for dinner, but we should all agree that it would be an amazing blessing if the Lord Jesus were to invite Himself into your home. If there was a great dinner party given by the King or the president, we might think of ways to secure and invitation and yet here we see the great humility of The King of creation coming to a common tax collector and sinner.
The depth of the gospels allows us to understand passages in more than one way. There is the simple and straightforward meaning as we see the Lord dine with Zacchaeus. There are other facets to the gospel. We can understand this activity of the Lord as one where He invites Himself to dwell in our “inner home” which is the heart. This is certainly an Orthodox concept which is reflected in the words of St. John Chrysostom in his pre-communion prayer “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy or sufficient that Thou shouldest come under the roof of the house of my soul.” The question then is “did the Lord invite Himself to stay with Zacchaeus randomly or did Zacchaeus somehow participate and give the Lord a small opening to invite Himself?” Certainly Zacchaeus did something that caught the Lord’s attention. He climbed a tree like a child, without shame or thought for how he ridiculous he might look in the process. He was determined to see this Jesus that everyone was talking about with his very own eyes.
Our question then must be “What must I do in order to show the Lord Jesus that He is welcome to invite Himself into my home, into my life and into my heart?” Let’s look at our daily lives and habits as a place to start and initiate our conversation with the Lord. Most of us are busy with work, and the kids are busy with schoolwork and play. We have filled our lives with endless distractions. It is not funny. Our distractions are changing us and making us less human. We can barely have conversations without reaching to check our phones. Men and women are walking around wearing giant headphones everywhere they go, why? Because they are addicted to noise. They are basically wearing a huge sign on their heads that says “I’m not even remotely interested in being a part of the community. I am not remotely interested in engaging with another human being.” We go to work and school and almost no one is interested in talking about things that matter, especially our faith. This might appear to be the sign of a civilized society but actually it is a sign of a society that is really quite sick. If our human relationships are changing and devolving, it is also true that our ability to communicate with God is affected tremendously. However, we can have hope.
Our situation is much like that of Zacchaeus. He had heard of Jesus, and now he had an opportunity to see him but there were distractions and obstacles all around him. There were crowds of people standing in his way. There are crowds of distraction that stand in ours every day. What makes this Zacchaeus so inspiring is his resolve, his stubbornness, and his firm intentions, along with a small dose of curiosity. He decided on that day, at that moment, that nothing, NOTHING, was going to stand in his way. He was going to see this Jesus one way or another. He wasn’t sure what he would find at the top of the tree but he was going to climb it anyway. He wasn’t concerned about how he might appear to others around him. He was going to lay his eyes on Our Lord and savior.
How can we do the same thing that Zacchaeus did and remove all the distractions in our lives? We have to find higher ground. Zacchaeus teaches us that seeing Jesus isn’t about changing your circumstances, it is about changing your viewpoint. He didn’t cry and wait for a miracle to remove the people who were around him. He didn’t even pray to become taller. For a Christian the higher ground is our prayer life. It is a lot like climbing a tree actually. It means making an intentional effort to go to a place where we can clearly see the Lord Jesus. How do we pray in our daily lives? How does our routine revolve around prayer?
Here are some practical ways to ascend to the high ground and catch a glimpse of the master.
Start your prayer time with quiet time to read the Bible or writings of the Church. During this time make sure that there are no distractions anywhere near you. No phones, no tv, no radio, no other people (unless they are also praying).
Make a few prostrations before you begin prayer.
Use the Orthodox prayer books. Morning prayers and evening prayers exist for a reason. They were not written for the saints. They were written for those who have the potential to become saints. Make a firm decision to pray either the whole morning or whole evening prayers at a bare minimum. If you do the morning prayers, perhaps you can do something shorter in the evening such as the Trisagion prayer and a couple of psalms (or vice-versa).
Kneel and read the psalms. Just a couple of psalms a day read in a calm and focused manner, will open your heart to solid prayers and the chance to properly communicate with the Lord.
Find a way to deepen your prayer life throughout the day. Get used to saying the Lord’s prayer multiple times a day. Get used to saying “Lord have mercy” or “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner!” Use this prayer any time the distractions come your way, anytime you begin to feel tempted to gossip, or to judge or to lose your patience or when you are tempted by lust or covetous desire. Also you can use this prayer anytime you lose your focus and your mind begins to wander or feel scattered.
Prayer is the tree. Is Our Lord worth the climb to the top? Can we prepare our house to receive Christ and to hear His words “Today salvation has come to this house!”
And Glory be to God forever AMEN.