In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: one God. [Amen.]
I greet you all, brothers and sisters, on this Lord’s day, on this day of the Resurrection—thank you, Fr. Peter; what a delight to be with you and to serve at the holy table here in this magnificent church and this wonderful shrine of St. John. This Sunday you should hear in your mind a bell tolling, because this is the Sunday of Zacchaeus. For those of you who only speak English, you could have heard it. It was the second gospel reading; it was done in Slavonic. It was the story of the Lord Jesus coming into Jericho and meeting Zacchaeus. This gospel reading is preparing us for the Sundays of pre-Lent and calling us to a preparation for the holiest time of the year in the Church, liturgical year.
Zacchaeus was a man who made effort to see Christ, and this is what we must do in Lent, so this is my first encouragement to you, brothers and sisters: Hear the message in the feast of Zacchaeus, and prepare yourself for the coming Lent. This gospel pericope, this beautiful interaction that Jesus had with Zacchaeus, is all about seeking. Zacchaeus was seeking. He’s the first seeker we see in the gospel text.
He was a short man, but he sought to see Christ, and he did what he had to do to get near Jesus. He climbed a sycamore tree. This was a rich man, a businessman, a man who was used to dignity and carrying himself with respect, yet, for him, seeing Jesus was all-important, and he climbed up a tree like a little child so that he could see Jesus. He was seeking him, but the gospel ends with these words out of the mouth of our Savior: “For the Son of man has come to seek and to save those who were lost.”
So, yes, Zacchaeus was seeking Jesus, but he was not seeking Jesus as much as Jesus was seeking him and as much as God seeks us. From the moment that our first parents fell in paradise and when they were cast out of the garden of delight, God, he came seeking for them in their misery, in their nakedness, and he seeks us still. What exactly does Jesus want with us? What does he want with you? Why is he seeking you? You can see this in Zacchaeus’ life, too.
The first thing that he wants from you and with you is he wants to define you. Though he had never met Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus had never met him, Jesus looked up in the tree and he called him by name. He said, “Zacchaeus, come down from the tree.” He called him by his name. Jesus defines us by our names, which is why we Orthodox Christians carry Christian names of great significance for us. They are definitive, calling us to a faithful Christian life. This is the first thing that he wants. He wants to define your life.
The second thing that he wants is to lead you. He wants to be the leader of your life. This is why, though he had never had any interactions with Zacchaeus, the first thing he did was give him commands: “Zacchaeus, come down. Zacchaeus, go home, Zacchaeus, prepare for me; I’m coming to your house today.” Can you imagine? Wouldn’t we think ourselves rude if we met some rich man and said, “Hey, I’m coming to your house today. You’re going to feed me a great meal.” We would never do that, but our Savior is the Master, the Lord. He wanted to lead Zacchaeus; he wanted to take up a position of leadership in Zacchaeus’ life that he would hold, that he holds in all of our lives if we dare to call him Kyrios. If we call him Lord, if we call him Master, he has to lead us.
And the last thing I want you to see, brothers and sisters: He didn’t just seek to define Zacchaeus’ life; he didn’t just seek to lead Zacchaeus’ life—he wanted to infuse himself into everything in Zacchaeus’ life. He got into Zacchaeus’ house. He wanted in Zacchaeus’ family. He wanted in Zacchaeus’ work, because Zacchaeus was doing some things that were not right. He was greedy, and he used his position as a tax-collector to enrich himself at the expense of others which was a manifest injustice, and Jesus wanted to infuse himself there to save him.
He wanted in his house, he wanted in his family, he wanted in his business—he wanted in his pocketbook! Yes, which is why Zacchaeus responded and said, “Half of all my possessions I give to the poor, and anything I have wrongly taken from other people”—who knows how much stuff that is!—“I give back four-fold.” Jesus was so impressed that Zacchaeus had received him and let him define him, let him lead him, let him infuse his very presence into the stuff of Zacchaeus’ life… Jesus was so impressed he said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man also is a son of Abraham.”
May that be Jesus’ statement about us, too. I wish you a very salvific Lent. Glory to God!