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Home / SERMONS FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD / 15th Sunday of Luke; Lk 19:1-10 The Repentance of Zacchaeus

15th Sunday of Luke; Lk 19:1-10 The Repentance of Zacchaeus

“Zacchaeus, make haste and come

down, for today I must stay

at your house”

You have heard, dear brothers and sisters,

the story of Zacchaeus many times. Being

so distinctive, it is known to all. Who was

Zacchaeus? What did he do? Today’s Gospel

tells us briefly: “He was a chief tax collector,

and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus.”

We are told his profession: chief tax collector.

In other words, the one who collects revenue

– what we might call a ‘taxation officer’ here

in Australia.

However, this particular tax collector was

not satisfied with his wealth or his position.

He did not feel secure. Something was missing

for him. Something deeper and more lasting.

Something more spiritual. He had heard

of Christ. He heard that He was passing

through his neighbourhood, and “sought to

see Jesus”. He too wished to see Him, and listen

to Him. But “could not …for he was of

short stature”. He could not see over the

crowd because he was short. Even today,

when someone is physically short, we call

him ‘Zacchaeus’. This however did not stop

him from persevering. He therefore climbed

up a fig tree, so that he too could hear at least

some of Christ’s words.

Christ sensed the thirst in his soul. He sensed his weakness in the spiritual realm

and had compassion on him, just as God who

knows all things, including the yearnings of

our heart, has compassion on each of us.

He had pity on him. And although the

crowd was so large, He said nothing about

the crowd. He did not dwell on the crowd,

but only on one person, one individual

specifically. On one who had spiritual thirst.

He therefore cried out: “Zacchaeus, make

haste and come down”. This was not a request

to climb down, but to hurry down!

Make haste! “For today I must stay at your

house”. Today I must be with you.

These words are highly educational for us

all, dear brothers and sisters. To show us that

Christ does not just care for the world in a

general way, in an unspecified manner, as

when He allows the sun to shine for both the

good and the bad, or when He gives rain to

the righteous and the unrighteous. Rather,

the God of the living and of the dead cares

for each of us personally! Each of us becomes

a special object of His love, a special recipient

of His providence, when we sincerely bring

all our needs to Him. He overlooks no one.

He forgets no one. He is indifferent towards

no one. See how characteristically He tells

Zacchaeus that He must go and stay in his

house.

The narrative thus far is no doubt interesting,

but it is not particularly moving. It could

have been any other famous person whom

the crowd wished to see and hear.

The account becomes especially educational from the moment we

notice the symbolism of certain simple, everyday events of life.

What does it mean that Zacchaeus climbed up a fig tree? And what

do the words “make haste, come down mean?” If we see these

events only on the surface, they are really quite trivial. The man

was short, he could not see Christ, then he climbed up a tree to do

so. Christ saw him. He saw his thirst, and said for him to come

down so that they could speak at his home.

The symbolism here is deep.

The fact that Zacchaeus chose to

climb the tree shows that, whenever one is unable of one’s own accord

to accomplish something, it results in unease, ambition and

inventiveness. Then what? The person who is otherwise unable,

starts to be creative, uses a little cunning and finds a solution. A

lever could be used, or some other device. Did not the ancient

Greeks say ‘necessity is the mother of all invention’? When you do

not have the means, or when you are poor, you must find a way to

get by. And so with Zacchaeus who, being short by nature, sought

a device, and that device was the tree. He used it to be in a position

to see Christ.

Yet Christ called him down! This is also very symbolic, for it is

as if He was saying: Listen here! Do not try and add foreign elements

to what nature has given you. Do not seek a crutch.

Crutches do not take you very far. You cannot have a tree everywhere

you go! So hurry and come down. The term κατάβηθι is

used here in the sense of ‘do not grow taller, do not ascend’.

In order to see Christ, one must descend. One must be humbled.

If you are short, become even shorter in spiritual terms. Make

haste and come down! While you are still alive, while there is still

time, become humble, stay low, have your ears open. And Zacchaeus

then began to realize the meaning of Christ’s words, when he

declared: “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if

I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore

fourfold”. If I stated that someone earns more than in actual fact,

and accused him in that way, I will return it fourfold. This was the

repentance of Zacchaeus!

Clearly arising from his repentance is the spiritual meaning of

Christ’s words “Make haste, and come down!” He called him

down to humble him, and he truly did. He truly repented. It was

no longer a momentary possibility of seeing Christ from the tree,

but rather the permanent joy of receiving Him into his home, in his

own environment, in his family surrounds, to feel Christ as his

own, and embrace Him.

This is why today’s reading, which may seem bland at first

sight, is so moving. It is for every person to evaluate and take stock

of the road traveled up until the present. And to see where he or

she was at fault. Who among us has not been at fault at some

stage? Everyone of us has committed sins and trangressions and

misdemeanours in life. We are all struggling and tormented people who

seek the light, who live with relatively few spiritual means

at our disposal, and who are yet called to transform the material

into something spiritual. And, depending on the how great is the

thirst in our soul, we will find the mercy of God, which changes

poverty into wealth, and necessity into opportunity.

Let us all absorb the message of Christ’s encounter with Zacchaeus,

and come down from any fig tree that we may have

climbed. From any social or professional position we may have acquired,

from any success we may have sought in this world – to

descend, to hide behind nothing, to become little children once

again, as we were when we first came into the world, when we felt

that everything depends on the will and blessing of God.

And then, God will not simply watch over us, not only look

upon us wherever we are, but will call us by our name to make

manifest our repentance. To accept Him into our own circumstances,

our own life, as well as our personal relationships and

aspirations. And then Christ will be our true life – life eternal.

Amen.

By Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, St Andrew’s Theological College – The first two decades (St Andrew’s Orthodox Press, Redfern, 2007), p. 127 -133.

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