Sermon by Bishop Mitrophan (Znosko-Borovsky, +2002)
of Boston on the Sunday of Zacchaeus
The Gospel reading about Zacchaeus precedes the preparatory Sundays to Great Lent. In it, emboldening us sinners, the Lord says: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Heading towards Jerusalem, Jesus Christ stopped to rest in Jericho. The two prominent classes of people in that city were the priests and the tax-collectors. This is mainly a priestly city, and one of the tax-collectors was Zacchaeus. As a chief of those who collected taxes for Rome, Zacchaeus was hated by the people. And naturally one would expect the Messiah, the Son of David, would be received in the house of one of the priests, a descendant of Aaron, but this was not to be: Jesus Christ chose to rest in a place which was unexpected for the local populace.
The sinner Zacchaeus had a profound desire to see with his own eyes what sort of a person Jesus Christ was, Whose glory had resounded among the people. Being of short stature, he could not because of the crowd even set eyes on Christ. So when Jesus passed through the city, Zacchaeus climbed up a fig tree by the side of the road. Jesus Christ was to pass under this tree, and Zacchaeus was given the chance to see Him, to see the One Who not only did not share the common hatred for tax collectors, but even elevated one as one of his Apostles.
When Jesus Christ approached, Zacchaeus saw Him and was overjoyed. But imagine the joy that filled his heart when the renowned Messiah of His people paused under the tree, looked up, called him by name and instructed him to descend—because He was going to have supper at his home! He, a sinner, a despised collector of taxes, was given the opportunity not only to behold Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, the Messiah, but to welcome Him in his house, to dine with Him and offer Him a place to spend the night! Zacchaeus joyously hastened to climb down from the tree and led the Great Guest to his house.
But the people were of one opinion, and loudly objected. The people deemed it dishonorable and humiliating that the Messiah, in the midst of His elated followers, would stay in the house of this hated sinner, a tax collector, whose very occupation was a symbol of national degradation. But the merciful word of Jesus to Zacchaeus meant more than the grumbling and insults of the crowd. The word of the Lord, spoken by Jesus Christ to the tax-collector, gave new life to the sinner, and with life-creating power resurrected the good qualities in Zacchaeus’ soul which had long been stifled by the thirst for wealth, self-interest and loathing towards his neighbors. Thrilled by the attention and honor bestowed upon him, Zacchaeus, rising from the dinner table, announced: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.”
This noble selflessness by the despised tax-collector, who so easily cast down his personal idols, justified the honor bestowed upon him by Christ, and the Savior exclaimed: “This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham,” a son of the father of the faithful. By these words, the Lord exposed those who condemned Him for entering the house of a sinner, He exposed those who even now assume the name of “son of Abraham,” but only physically, not spiritually. And we are all “sons of Abraham” if we preserve the faith in the True God, if we remain devoted to the One Who is the Light of Reason and Sun of Truth for all of mankind, devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word of God is eternal, it will even now resurrect the souls of sinners and all those who prepares their hearts for meeting the Lord. Amen.