The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (19:1-10)
Whenever we hear the familiar story of Zacchaeus, our minds begin to come alive with the thought and the memory of years past and we begin to seriously think about the fact that in just a few weeks, we will begin Great and Holy Lent, which is the most joyous, difficult and beautiful time in the whole life of the Church.
Already the Church is preparing us by giving us small bread crumbs on the path to our salvation and healing. That is what salvation is all about, the healing of the human person, the restoration of his soul. And Zacchaeus clearly demonstrates some of the steps that are necessary for anyone who desires to be healed and saved. You know, I meet many people who say that they desire to be saved or desire to know God or desire to acquire peace. Yet we cannot expect to desire such great things without some effort and work on our parts. If someone desires to be a great athlete, they will have to do more than wish for it to happen. They can’t sit on the couch and eat potato chips while watching the television. That will not help them progress. Likewise the person who wants to become a great author and write the next great American novel, will need to do more than read the work of others. He or she can’t daydream about stories forever. One day, they will need to put pencil to paper or sit in front of their computers and type. The work of salvation and of knowing God is infinitely more difficult than becoming a great athlete or an accomplished author because it involves every part of us and every waking moment of our lives. If we say that we desire these great things from God, we will have to work to prove that to be true. Let us look at the example of Zacchaeus and see what is required.
We are told that Zacchaeus “sought to see Who Jesus was.” What a simple first step. Notice that we are not told that He sought to see Jesus, but to “see Who Jesus was.” Which means that Zacchaeus had a desire to know more about the Lord Jesus. It wasn’t enough to trust the word of others. He had an intense desire to search for himself. But this intense desire was not enough. He acted upon this desire to climb up into the tree. Zacchaeus could have made many excuses as soon as his desire developed in his heart. He could have said “there are too many people” or “I am just not tall enough to see over the others” or even “I would climb into the tree but I am afraid that I will look extremely foolish.” But he did not make excuses or justify inaction. If we are serious about knowing Christ, we will not make excuses or justify our own inactions. This means that we have to be abundantly honest with ourselves, which is maybe the most difficult thing for us to do. The Lord will not appear and force you to seek and pursue him, you must cooperate with the grace of God that is given you and force yourself and your will towards Him.
When the Lord Jesus looked up in to the tree and saw Zacchaeus He said “Zacchaeus make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The next step that we see is a simple one. Zacchaeus promptly obeyed the Lord without hesitation. How often do we hear the Lord’s words to us in our scripture reading or in the words of the Sunday gospel? How often do we hear the words in our conscience? Are we responding to the word of the Lord like Zacchaeus? Do we obey the Lord quickly and without hesitation? Again we are required to be honest with ourselves.
Finally as the Lord Jesus draws near and enters the house of Zacchaeus we witness a transformation occurring. We shouldn’t be surprised that it is happening because the presence of the Lord is full of power and wonder even from the first moment. First, he gave half of his goods to the poor. This is a sign truly the love of the Son of God had permeated his heart and mind. He was being healed and restored by Christ to the image and likeness of a child of God. In addition to demonstrating this love for the poor, he also is showing us that he is completely detached from materialism and the acquiring of wealth. Perhaps that is when we truly know that someone has genuine faith, when they “put their money where their mouth is.” In addition to his generosity towards the poor and his detachment from materialism we see one final step on his path to salvation, he repents greatly and tries to make amends with those around him, saying that he will restore fourfold of whatever he has taken unlawfully or defrauded from anyone. Fourfold! If he unjustly charged an extra ten dollars, he would pay back forty. If it was an extra $100, he would pay back $400 and so forth and so on. Do we need to make amends with people around us? Do we need to make things right with people that we haven’t treated well?
All of the steps that Zacchaeus took to gain salvation are steps that each of us must also be willing to take. 1) Desire to see Who Jesus is. 2) Follow your desire with action. Speaking about the first and second steps we’ve mentioned here our saint of the day, Maximos the Confessor writes “The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.” 3) Promptly obey when the Lord instructs you. 4) Give alms to the poor and needy. Regarding this point, St. Maximos writes “The state of love may be recognized in the giving of money.” 5) Repent not only towards God but by making things right with those that you have wronged at any time in your past.
All of these steps are fairly straightforward but they require honesty and introspection and they call us to action. They are difficult, but Christ is infinitely worth any momentary difficulties we may face when trying to be healed and saved, which is His will for our lives. Zacchaeus followed the path of his desire and hunger for the Lord Jesus and by his faithfulness in a few things, the Lord granted salvation to him and to his household…all within the same day! May our Lord Jesus Christ come to dwell in our homes and in our hearts and allow us to share in this joyous salvation. Glory be to God forever, Amen.