Zacchæus Sunday

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Turning away from Darkness
Zacchæus Sunday
17 January, 2010
1 Timothy 4:9-15 ; Luke 19:1-10


[This audio file has been edited since audio and written styles are not the same but very different ways of communication.]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we once again encounter Zacchæus, the short person who climbed into a sycamore tree to try to get a glimpse of our Saviour as He was passing by that way. Every time this encounter with Zacchæus comes to us, we also know that something else is about to happen. Great Lent is coming, and we begin to use The Triodion (the Book of the Three Odes). We will use this book until Pascha. After Pascha, we use the extension of this book, which is sometimes called The “Bright” Triodion. Anyway, just so that you know, it is time to get ready to get ready.

This morning, the Apostle is telling Timothy, his disciple (who is also a bishop), that he is to be an example to the faithful in everything that is good, and that is characteristic of the Christian way of life. This is what a leader of the flock has to do. A shepherd (which is what a bishop or a priest is) has to lead the flock, and show them the path in which to go – not by driving them, but by showing them the way, himself. It is right that the leader should give the example, as well as he can, of how to live as a Christian. The sheep should follow that example. If the shepherd should fail (as all of us shepherds do from time to time), it is important for the shepherd to admit to the sheep that he has made a mistake, and that he say to the sheep : “In this case, do as I say ; do not do as I do”. However, the shepherd is responsible for leading the flock as well as he can, despite his mistakes. When the shepherd is identified with Christ so that people can see the Christian way (which includes repentance) in this leader, then the faithful can be confident that if they are living their lives similarly, then they are on the right path.

What is the essence of this right path ? There are two fundamental characteristics that I want to pay attention to at this moment. The first is love. It can never be avoided, talking about love, because God, Himself, is love (see 1 John 4:8). He implants this love in us. He nurtures us in this love. This love is the foundation of our life. It was because of love, actually, that Zacchæus (who later became, himself, a leader in the Church) wanted to see our Saviour. Zacchæus knew himself to be a man who was very distant from the way of love. He was distant from what our Saviour was saying ; he was distant from what Moses had been saying, because he was a tax collector. In those days, to be a tax collector was to be thief.

In Canada these days, perhaps we sometimes might feel that Revenue Canada is stealing our money. I remember a joke tax form that was being sent around not long ago (supposedly from Revenue Canada). It is called : “The easy Tax Form”. It had one question on it : “How much money did you make last year ?” After that is filled in, then Revenue Canada directs : “Send it to us”. Tax collection in the time of Zacchæus was very much like that, but it was not a joke. He had taken much from many people. Nevertheless, Zacchæus had a spark of something good in him, because his heart was warmed by the things that he had heard about our Saviour, and at least he wanted to see Him on this day. Thus, today, Zacchæus gets the shock of his life, because instead of merely being able to see Jesus walking by on the ground below this tree, Jesus instead walks over to this tree (because He knows our hearts) ; He looks up to him, and He says to Zacchæus : “‘Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house’”. When I was a child, there was a song about Zacchæus (which is, of course, a very British one) which ends with our Saviour saying, as it were : “Zacchæus, come down for I am coming to your house for tea”. Having the odd sense of humour that I have, I begin to think about tea-time in Asterix and Obelisk in Britain (humour about Brittany and Britain at the time of Julius Cæsar) which consisted in drinking cups of boiling hot water with milk. I believe that they actually may have had tea in the Middle East in the time of our Saviour. They certainly had herbal teas, but that is not the point. Our Saviour now goes to the house of Zacchæus, and we can tell that the house was full of people because of the context of what we heard. When our Saviour was coming to his house, Zacchæus prepared a dinner that day, and filled it up with everyone possible. We see here that simply being in the presence of our Saviour produces an instant change in Zacchæus. This instant change is called “repentance”. Zacchæus shows us this characteristic of repentance by immediately, in the presence of our Saviour, changing his way of life. Instead of taking things from people, he begins to be a giver. Thus, in his returning of everything that he had taken from anyone which was in excess of what was required, he was giving back to that person four times what he had taken. Moreover, he was about to give half of everything that he had to the poor. Even with this, Zacchæus did not run out of money, so we can see what sort of bank account he must have had.

Zacchæus becomes for us all a clear example of what it is to repent. In the presence of the love of God, we are given life, and our hearts are warmed. Because of the healing love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we turn away from darkness, and we turn to light. Because of the life-giving love of the Lord, we turn away from fear, and we turn to love. Zacchæus went on in his life demonstrating exactly this love that was shared with him by our Saviour, the Knower of our hearts.

As the Lord knows the heart of Zacchæus, and brings real life, everlasting life to him, He also brings life and everlasting life to you and to me. He knows our hearts. He knows what is good in our hearts. He knows how to nurture what is good in our hearts. If we have made mistakes, or if we have defrauded or defaulted in some way or other, the Lord asks us to turn away from it. He enables us to turn away from it. The Lord is the One who accompanies us on every step of the way, and enables us to turn about. He does not say, in effect : “Turn about. Turn away. Turn to Me”. Rather, He comes with us ; He takes our hand, and He helps us to do this turning. The Lord Himself, who is always with us, is helping us in every way, in everything. This is the Lord whom we serve, who loves us, and cares for us. He is the One who overcomes all our darkness. He is the One who heals our brokenness. He is the One who puts back together again the things that we have willy-nilly taken apart. He is the Healer. He is our Consolation. He is our Joy. The Apostle Timothy and the Apostle Zacchæus demonstrated all this in their lives. It was because of the demonstration of this healing love, this consoling love, this immediate love, that many, many people came to Christ, and have since come to Christ.

This example of Zacchæus is a very strong example for me. Perhaps it has something to do with that song that I learned when I was five. Nevertheless, the example of Zacchæus is important because of his readiness to follow our Saviour, his readiness to be generous, his readiness to be open-handed, open-armed, and open-hearted. May the Lord give you and me more open-heartedness, open-armedness, and open-handedness in the manner of Zacchæus. May the Lord give us all the strength to follow Him with love and hope no matter how difficult some of the obstacles we face may be. May the Lord enable us, by His love, through the prayers of the Mother of God, through the prayers of Saint Nicholas, through the prayers of Saint Anthony the Great, to follow Him with love and hope. May we be consumed with this love so that with great joy we will continue and complete our lives in harmony with, and glorifying the All-Holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.