January 27, 2008
15th Sunday in Luke;
The Publican Zaccheus
In the annual cycle of the Gospel excerpts we heard of the conversion and salvation of the Publican, or Tax Collector Zaccheus. It is a beautiful story chosen by the Holy Fathers of our Church, as the beginning of the prologue, leading us into the awesome Lenten Period, which commences on March 10t. The narration of Zaccheus' exemplary act, as well as the excerpts, which will follow on subsequent Sundays have a sole purpose. And that is, to prepare us psychologically and emotionally to enter the 40 day Lenten Period.
These Biblical excerpts, if put into practice, do have the power to transform us and save us. But, so many Christians have condemned this holy Period to a typical routine, of perhaps fasting from some foods. When will people learn that fasting is not an end, but a discipline, and a means to an end? Thus, there is no spiritual energizing, which should and could transform our lives.
I like how various writers describe Zaccheus, the Tax Collector, who from a Midget, became a Giant. He was short in stature, but his arms stretched far and wide to literally bleed the people. Appointed by the Roman Authorities, who had conquered the Mid-East, he used his powerful position to accumulate great wealth. Who could speak against him when the Romans were happy with the private arrangement they must have had with Zaccheus.
But, in most people's lives, there does come a psychological moment, when there is a period of spiritually awakening. Regardless of how deeply they are immersed in sin, living apart from God, there comes a time, when their conscience awakens and continues to reprimand them.
At this crossroad, they can choose to lull his or her conscience once more, and fall into a lethargy, or, they take the decision to rectify their evil ways, and regain the ineffable beauty of simplicity and love.
Zaccheus felt the knocking on the door of his heart, and loudly. Long ago he had dived into the pool of material wealth, but this did not bring him the satisfaction he truly wanted in his life. But, what could he do? To whom could he turn for consolation and advice?
It happened, that he had heard of the Great Teacher of Love, who possessed nothing material,-- yet, He possessed everything. He had great hopes, that the Great Teacher would come by his City. This did happen. From afar he saw a great crowd almost blocking the way the Lord was walking.
There was some distance between his office and the Lord approaching. He deeply sensed his conscience revolting, and demanding a rectification of his misdeeds, so that he could sense the peace of soul that he so vehemently desired.
However, Zaccheus was faced with a great problem. He reasoned that standing in front of his office, how would he be able to see Jesus, and perhaps talk to Him, when most of the crowd towered over him. But, here is where one can ascertain the metamorphosis that was taking place in his heart, which produced unbelievable faith and power. If a person truly believes, he or she must make every effort to follow through, overcoming any obstacle. This Zaccheus did.
Across from his office was a sycamore tree. He looked at it and said to himself: "I will climb up that tree and have a better vantage point than most." This he did without reservations, because men of his social position just didn't do those things. In similar instances some people would think, what will the people say, as usually happens, but Zaccheus cared only what God would say.
Those few moments on the tree, when the transformation was happening he thought on his wretched life. Assuredly he sensed the wrath of the people anytime he walked the streets. Then, as he saw Jesus from afar he was overtaken by the Lord's simplicity, yet his majesty. He sensed a countenance that radiated spiritual beauty, warmth, brilliance and ineffable happiness, whereas he saw himself as he truly was; a deplorable, and reprehensible person. Stopping under the sycamore tree, the Lord looks up. His glance meets the staring and dumbfounded Zaccheus. The Lord's sight went very deep into his soul.
As the omniscient God, He knew well the transformation and spiritual regeneration, that was taking place in Zaccheus' heart, and says: "Zaccheus, make haste and come down from the tree, because I am to visit with you in your house!"
This phrase of the Lord dealt the final blow in the total destruction of the old Zaccheus, which was deluged with conceit, arrogance, false pride, force, deceit, slander, cheating and extortion. The former midget in body and soul, instantly rebuilds over the ruins of the old man, a vast spiritual empire.
The reborn Tax Collector immediately makes his declaration publicly. "Lord," he says: "I will gladly distribute half of my wealth to the poor, and to all those people, whom I have cheated, I shall repay them fourfold!" As a result of his public confession, and the fact that for the first time he became a great benefactor, he hears from the Lord: "Zaccheus, today salvation has come to this house!" In some form my beloved, too many Christians can be likened to the old Zaccheus, because they are so closely allied to old habits and sinful ways. Egotism, slander, suspicion, jealousy, greed, animosity, lies, unfaithfulness, envy, and the like, constitute heavy weights, which pin them steadfastly to the ground, so that they are unable to climb the sycamore tree to get a close glimpse of Christ our Lord.
If these Christians seek to really be enlightened, and if, in a moment of self appraisal they admit to themselves, that they are grossly unhappy and unfulfilled, even though they have all the possessions and comforts, which they thought would have brought them happiness, the example of Zaccheus is primary. They may possess everything, but in reality they are poverty stricken.
If they choose to follow through as Zaccheus did, then they will hear the reassuring words of the Lord: "My beloved, today salvation has come to your house." That's the indescribable miracle of Christianity. The soul is nurtured abundantly and we feast on spiritual fulfillment.
All Christians should forever be mindful of our spiritual counterpart, our soul, and make sincere attempts to free ourselves from any evil, which oftentimes we dismiss so lightly our transgressions with the usual well known justifications. The miraculous transformation of Zaccheus was intentionally recorded in the Bible, because of the susceptibility of many humans of falling in this very pattern of life.
In a few weeks as I stated, the Great Lenten period commences. Zaccheus transformation should serve as an introductory example of spiritual regeneration. May the Lord bless us and strengthen us to be conscious of the guidelines the Holy Bible affords us. Amen.
+ Fr. George Papadeas