The Church provides us with a series of Sundays to prepare us for the journey of Great Lent. The Sunday of Zacchæus is the first of these signposts that teach us how to approach the Fast.
Today’s Gospel reading is Luke 19:1-10.
This Sunday we learn that we are like Zacchæus himself: we strain on tip-toes to look over the busyness of our lives to see Christ, but we cannot, due to our short spiritual stature. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. On our own we cannot see past our sins and passions. So the Church gives us a means to arise: we climb the tree of Great Lent that the Church has given us in order to see the resurrection of Christ at Pascha. In the process we discover that Christ is seeking us. Christ says to us, as to Zacchæus, “I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20).
This Sunday’s Gospel reading tells how Christ brought salvation to Zacchæus the tax-collector, and how his life was changed when he “sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3). The desire and effort to see Jesus begins our whole movement through Lent towards Pascha. This is the first movement of salvation. Our lenten journey begins with a recognition of our own sinfulness, just as Zacchæus recognized his own. He promised to make restitution by giving half his wealth to the poor, and by paying to those he had falsely accused four times as much as they had lost. In this, he went beyond the requirements of the Law (Ex. 22:3-12).
The example of Zacchæus teaches us that we must first approach God without pride: for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble… Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6,8). And we must embrace repentance: turn away from our sins and atone for them. The real proof of our sorrow and repentance is not just a verbal apology; rather it is when we correct ourselves and try to make amends for the consequences of our evil actions. When we set our hearts on reconciliation with God and with those we have wronged, then we are assured that God’s grace and mercy will heal us by Christ’s own words to Zacchæus, “Today salvation is come to this house” (Luke 19:9).
Zacchæus was short, so he climbed a tree in order to see the Lord. We too fall short in our spiritual stature, so we must climb the ladder of the virtues. In other words, we must prepare for spiritual effort and growth, in knowledge of our sin, of Christ’s mercy, and of God’s love for every person.
“Our self-abasement must always be linked with a childlike trust and confidence. This attitude is not to be adopted merely at the hour of prayer. This reverence and self-abasement must be extended to all Christ’s members, to God in every man.”
– Fr Lazarus Moore in Lectures on Monasticism (1953)
Each of the Sundays between now and the beginning of Lent will teach us something about how to approach the struggle. Today’s lesson is humility.
History tells us Zacchæus went on to become to become the first bishop of Caesarea. Saint Zacchæus is additionally commemorated on April 20.