On the Sunday of Zacchaeus

At that time, Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, 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. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: 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. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch 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 19:1-10)

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

Dear brothers and sisters,

On the Sunday of Zacchaeus, we yearly encounter the spectacle of Zacchaeus the publican and Roman-collaborator – despised and shunned by Jewish society – clambering into the branches of a tree, from whose height the whole perspective of his life was transformed.

A man who knew that he had power and control over the lives of the people whom he squeezed and plundered for the sake of his own purse, as well as that of the Roman occupiers, threw image and propriety to the wind, simply to see over the heads of those – and indeed everything – that stood between him and his encounter with Christ.

St Ephrem saw the tree that Zacchaeus climbed as the opposite of the Tree of Knowledge, for whereas Adam was guilty through his actions at that tree, the tree for Zacchaeus became a sign abd token of his innocence.

“The first fig tree of Adam will be forgotten, because of the last fig tree of the chief tax collector, and “the name of the guilty Adam will be forgotten because of the innocent Zacchaeus.”

St Ephrem the Syrian: Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron

Like the children of Palm Sunday, the tax-collector climbed amongst the leaves and branches to see the approach of the Saviour, in a childlike spectacle, but whereas the Feast of Palms marks the Saviour’s entrance into the Holy City, the events of the Sunday Gospel mark the entrance of the Saviour into the life and house of Zacchaeus, where he is welcomed by a heart and home that were changed by the salvific encounter.

Furthermore, the tree becomes a reference for the tree of Cross, and Blessed Augustine of Hippo calls upon us in our humility to climb the Cross, as Zacchaeus in simple humility, climbed into the boughs of the ‘sycamore’.

This Gospel calls us to stop worrying about what the world, society, colleagues, neighbours… even family think of us, so that in seemingly divine-folly and abandon we may try to gain a viewpoint and perspective of the Lord – doing whatever it takes to draw near to the Saviour, leaving the crowd behind, and not worrying about what anyone else thinks in order to  encounter the Saviour, even to simply glimpse him for a moment.

As Zacchaeus forgets his own dignity and sacrifices his image to behave like a child rather than a wealthy Roman civil servant, willingly to make a laughable spectacle of himself, he puts aside the cares of the world, and by doing so receives the King of all, as we are called to do every time we chant the cherubic hymn.

To return to Blessed Augustine’s words on this Gospel:

“Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies.

The crowd laughs at the lowly and says, ‘You helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and get back what is your own.’ The crowd gets in the way and prevents Jesus from being seen. The crowd boasts and crows when it is able to get back what it owns. It blocks the sight of the one who said as he hung on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing…’

He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of ‘silly fruit.’ As the apostle says, ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.’

Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, ‘What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?’ What sort of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. ‘The wisdom of this world is folly with God.’

No, we do not have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish. Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree.

Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush.

As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

Like Zacchaeus, let us become fools in the eyes of the world, to gaze upon the face of the All-Merciful Saviour, and to embrace His way and Holy Wisdom which is folly to the proud and worldly.

Like Zacchaeus, let us find the humility and abandon to become a spectacle, whatever the world may think and say.

Like Zacchaeus, let us open the doors of our home and heart to the Saviour, so that He may say to each of us, “Today, salvation has come into this house.”


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