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Sermon for the Sunday of Zacchaeus the tax collector

Today’s Gospel reading tells us about the healing of a person who was blind in soul – Zacchaeus. Jesus, walking around the earth to perform our salvation, entered Jericho accompanied by a multitude of people. Among the inhabitants of Jericho there was a certain Zacchaeus, rich head of collectors of taxes imposed upon Jews by their conquerors – Romans. People did not like and despised tax collectors as the servants of Mammon and extortionists, who fleeced their fellow countrymen under the protection of the foreign power.

Sermon for the Sunday of Zacchaeus the tax collector

The man, whose life was far from righteousness, wanted to see Christ. What drew him to Jesus? Probably, by the grace of God the awareness of his unrighteousness, the reproach of consciousness had arisen in his soul. His soul, which is Christian by its nature, thirsted for something higher, felt the emptiness of the everyday vanity, wanted to see the Saviour.

The name “Zacchaeus” means “righteous”. That man, whose life contradicted his name, that is his inner calling, to such a degree, found himself near the Saviour. Being of a small stature and in the crowd, he could not see the Saviour over the heads of other people, so he rushed forward and climbed a tree – a Sycamine tree, standing by the road.

We can imagine how this haughty, rich, probably not young and full-bodied man climbs a tree, like a boy, under the mocking and judging looks of the crowd. However, Zacchaeus was not afraid to be ridiculed and censured by his fellow citizens.

Let’s remember that the same kind of judging crowd separated the blind man from the Saviour, hindered his good aspiration and pushed him aside, becoming an obstacle for his salvation. This is what happens to us, when the opinion of others and their condemnation becomes an obstacle on the path of salvation. It is so hard for us, as for the blind man and for Zacchaeus, to overcome the mockery and condemnation of a crowd, to show courage and determination to become free from idle opinions and turn to the Lord!

The Saviour saw the good disposition of Zacchaeus, with which he wanted to see the Lord, He knew that it is not just an empty curiosity. Were there not enough other people? However, the Lord turned his eye to Zacchaeus, for, looking into the depth of his soul, he saw that Zacchaeus bears the name of a righteous man not in vain. That righteousness had long been hidden inside Zacchaeus’ soul, clouded by his sinful life. But the Saviour discerned in him the ability to repent and change his whole life.

Christ demonstrates his love and mercy towards Zacchaeus, approaching the tree, on which he was and telling him: “Zacchaeus, hurry up, get down from the Sycamine tree, for today I must be at your house”.

I think that you, brothers and sisters, can understand the feelings, which seized Zacchaeus when he heard that the Lord was coming to him. Zacchaeus, who considered himself a great sinner and did not hope to see Christ close, suddenly sees Him standing before him. Moreover, he learns that Christ the Saviour would visit his house. The Lord, seeing the hearts of men, knew the wish of Zacchaeus’ heart. He called him by the name in view of the crowd, letting know that that person does not belong to those mentioned by prophet David: “I will not … lift their names on my lips” (Ps. 16:4), but is instead loved by Him, that a source of great mercy is opened to Zacchaeus. But the crowd “murmured” at Jesus with anger: whom did choose from among all of us! An evil greedy man known throughout the city! People felt annoyed that the Teacher, the Preacher of goodness and justice, was going to the house of an evil and greedy person. 

The faces of that crowd expressed misunderstanding and condemnation, since those people, due to the blindness of their souls, were unable to see the spiritual world, illuminated by the grace of the Spirit of God. They judged, as people whose souls are attached to the external life usually do, as the Apostle says: The man who has only a soul (and not the Spirit) does not accept that which is from the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). Many of them were vain and hypocritical.

Zacchaeus, rejoicing, received Christ, Who, out of his love for mankind, despising human reproach, visited the repentant sinner. Not only by confession alone, but also by a good deed, and a very significant one, Zacchaeus testified of his true repentance, redressing his evil deeds with good ones. Zacchaeus, in gratitude to the Lord for his visit, stood up and said to Jesus: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Let us pay attention to this word: “stood up” – it expresses Zacchaeus’ determination to change his life. In that way Zacchaeus, having shown himself to be righteous in deed, shut the lips of those who grumbled and showed them that he had become worthy of the visit of the Saviour.

Having paid back four times to those whom he humiliated or robbed and returned in full to the offended, Zacchaeus demonstrated his cleansing. He did what was required by the law of that time about thieves, as formulated in the book of Exodus (22:1). He turned away from evil by distributing half of his property to the poor, and by that he did good. Having seen Christ next to him, Zacchaeus realized the unworthiness of many years of his life. His passion – love of money – disappeared before Christ, and he stood up before the Saviour – a real, genuine person, capable of repentance, capable of hating his sin.

By his deeds Zacchaeus reformed his life – of course, at a dear price – but that was the only thing he needed, and for that the Lord announced to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” In that way the Lord has borne witness to the repentance and righteousness of that man. Thus, the Lord came to the house of a perishing sinner and a lover of money, and leaves the house of a saved God-lover, righteous and hospitable man What a quick change occurred in the soul of Zacchaeus!

Beloved brothers and sisters! Let us pay back to those whom we have offended, for whoever offends his neighbours incurs the wrath of God. The Lord is merciful to the unrighteously offended, but punishes those who offend and allows adversity to them in this life and punishment in the future.

The repentance of Zacchaeus is an example of true repentance, which is not limited only to fruitless regret for the sins committed, but seeks to atone for sins by the opposite good deeds. Sometimes, living in sins, we are slow to turn to the Lord in repentance, we rarely go to confession in the Church, excusing ourselves by the lack of time and other pretexts. And it is not enough just to say in confession that you are sinful. Zacchaeus, as soon as he met and accepted the Lord, immediately decided to leave his unrighteous deeds. As for ourselves, it often happens that we ask the Lord to forgive our sins, but we do not reform our lives, do not change our habits and behaviour that drives us to sin, excusing ourselves by human weakness and the fact that everyone does this. We do not seek to move away from temptations in order to avoid sin, we do not bring to our mind the threat of the Judgment of God, during difficult trials we do not resort with a prayer of repentance to the Lord, Who does not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength (1 Cor. 10:13). If we sincerely and firmly decide to avoid sin, to live according to the will of God, then the Lord, who desires our salvation, will not leave us. Although it seems difficult and sometimes impossible for us to overcome the attraction to sin, with the help of the grace of God we can free ourselves from it, since the impossible for men is possible for God, says the Lord.

The prophet David said beautifully: “by my God I can leap over a wall” (Psalm 18:29), because our sins, like a wall, prevent us from meeting the Lord, and only repentance gives strength to the tax collector to climb a tree, that is, to get off the ground, to become at least a little closer to God.

Venerable Ephraim the Syrian says about repentance: “Listen, you repentant, approach God with all your heart, and He will reward you with complete piety. … You, who have sinned, are raising yourself from the dead, become light out of darkness.” That is why Christ came to earth: to give salvation to all those who want to be saved.

Brothers and sisters! Let’s approach Great Lent in a new way, like Zacchaeus – boldly, joyfully, overcoming the blindness of our souls in order to see the only thing needed – our Lord, and through repentance to become free people – free from passions, fear, human vanity and love of money. Let us grow rich in good deeds in order to be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven, to enter into the joy of eternal life, grace, mercy and love of humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ.