Just yesterday was the Sunday of Zacchaeus, just one week before the beginning of Triodion, the Orthodox division of chrónos time in which we make our preparations for the journey to Pascha, to the new paradise of the Tree of Life, the cross on which our Savior Jesus Christ hung as a ripe fruit, beckoning us to eat of it, that we might live forever. “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
The entrance gate to that new paradise is not permanently locked as was the gate to the old, from whence our first forefathers Adam and Eve were expelled for their transgressions, and we for ours. We have been invited, no, commanded, to open that gate and to enter, to seek Him whom our heart loves (cf. Song of Songs, 1:7), and we have been shown how, in the example of Zacchaeus, a man who though rich had come up short in his accounts with the Master, yet who was called to welcome the Lord into his house.
He entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see Him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.
When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down! Hurry, because I must stay at your house today!’ And he hurried down and welcomed Him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’
Luke 19:1-10 Jerusalem Bible
How can anyone who hears this true story not feel his spirit leap within him? Another chance to make good on everything that I have ruined, another chance to welcome back joy into my shattered life. Though I have filled my house with every good thing, it has been through pillaging what was not mine. Though I have exploited the poor, defrauded widows and orphans, He has seen hidden inside me the man that He created, and He is giving me another chance. He is letting me serve Him, letting me dine with Him, in my own house which He now has made His. “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.”
And so the Word of God comes to our personal Jericho, and we, having heard of Him, maybe knowing more about Him than we care to admit, run ahead to find a comfortable spot from which to view this parade of His followers, and actually lay our eyes on Him. All we wanted to do was just that—take a look. But what happens to us proves beyond all shadow of a doubt, that His love bestows on us more than we bargained for. Though we thought, ‘I am one of so many, I can hide among the leafy branches above this crowd, and see Him without being noticed,’ He sees us.
The crowd doesn’t see us, no matter what we do, good or bad, whether we try to be visible or invisible. No one ever sees us as we really are. We don’t even see ourselves. Yet we cannot hide from the One who made us, and who is all Eye. Though Jesus had never seen him in this world, He looked up and saw Zacchaeus and called him out by name, just as He calls each of us by name. ‘How do you know me?’ asks another man whom Jesus called by name. For that man, as for Zacchaeus, there was no gradual development into a follower of Christ; it happened in an instant, in a moment of kairós time
(cf. John 1:48).
It always must be this way. Jesus doesn’t wait. He calls us, and we either respond, or not. What must it feel like to be someone who has heard the voice of Jesus, and still turned away?
So Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus Christ into his home, prepared a feast, and dined with the Lord. No one had to tell him what to say or do. “Blessed are you... because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 NASB), he just said it, and did it. “I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.” Zacchaeus returned to his senses, drawn back to reason by the Son of Man, remembered the covenant, came back to the commandments. Why? Because he heard the voice of Jesus say, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.”
We too are the sons and daughters, not only of Abraham, but of God our heavenly Father, through Christ our heavenly Brother, Friend, Master and Lord, who says to us, “I shall not call you servants any more, because a servant does not know his master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (John 15:15 JB) and “You are My friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
What an opportunity! Jesus calls us by name—even if we don’t know Him, He knows us—to the sumptuous banquet of the Word! With Zacchaeus, let’s return everything that doesn’t belong to us—sin itself—so that we can travel light, as we run the way of His commandments, because He has set us free.