A Sermon on the Sunday of Zacchaeus
By Metropolitan Moses of Toronto
We just celebrated the Holy Theophany or the Feast of Lights, wherein the worship of the Trinity was clearly made manifest for the sake of the nation of the Jews first, but then also for whole world. The world came to God knowledge first through the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ Who came to sanctify the waters so that we might be sanctified. We participate in this sanctification and participation in Divine Grace through our own baptism and we come to knowledge of God through our renunciation of the devil and our acceptance of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ of God. Yet, in order to preserve this gift, we must live a new way of life.
In last week’s Gospel for the Sunday after Theophany it is written:
The people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the land and shadow of death a light is risen. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, repent: for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand. (Matt 4:16-17)
The preaching of the glad tidings of the new way of life of the Gospel began with a call to repent, a call to change our ways for the good, to turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it, as Psalm 33 says.
In addition to this, our Lord says elsewhere:
“The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Which brings us to the subject of this week’s Holy Gospel, Zacchaeus, a man who evidently lived a life wholly dedicated to things outside of himself, seeking primarily for wealth and material possessions. Because of his singleness of mind in this, up until the time he encountered our Savior, he did not worry that he was estranged from his nation for being a collaborator with the hated Roman authority and more than this, that he openly sinned by extorting more than his due, thus becoming rich.
Yet, the news of Jesus of Nazareth, prophet mighty in deed and word, struck a chord within and caused him to reexamine his life. As it is written in the Gospel, our Savior noticed him in the Sycamore tree and called unto him, saying:
Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received Him joyfully. (Luke 19:5)
And with joy Zacchaeus responded to His call and with joy completely repented of his sins and promised to give the half of his goods to the poor and restore fourfold any thing taken from any man by false accusation. As a result of this, our Savior proclaimed before all:
“This day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)
Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitksy commented on this passage saying that Zacchaeus believed at once, but it was only after he showed forth his belief by his works, by his promise to repent and distribute his goods, that he received the gift of salvation.
It is important for us to understand that Baptism is granted unto us to make us members of the Body of Christ, but it is not a guarantee of our salvation. Christianity is not an abstract philosophy and our repentance is not made manifest in the mind only, but by our works. It is through self-examination and turning away from sin that we preserve our Baptismal grace and make spiritual progress. In today’s Gospel, our Lord, the Knower of hearts perceived the beginning of repentance in Zacchaeus’ heart and invited Himself to abide at the home of Zacchaeus. Thus, God also sees the beginning of our repentance and begins to make His abode in us, and if we continue to make our own efforts He grants us every blessing and makes us members of the Household of God.
You are of the household of God and members of the Body of Christ since you have accepted the awaited Messiah, the Christ of God. May God grant that henceforth you live a life of self-examination so that you can do your own part and cooperate in the work of your salvation through your new way of a life of repentance, and thus, participate in the Kingdom of the Heavens within. Amen.