January 28, 2024

Homily for the Sunday of Zacchaeus (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 Homily for the Sunday of Zacchaeus

15th Sunday of Luke

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on February 18, 1945)

Our Lord Jesus Christ walked through the city of Jericho. As always, He was accompanied by a huge crowd of people. The chief of the publicans, Zacchaeus, lived in Jericho at that time. Tax collectors were called publicans, who in those days were cruel people: they robbed the people, collecting taxes so that most of the money remained for themselves.

The people hated them and considered them grave sinners. And so, this sinful man Zacchaeus was inflamed with a desire to see the Lord Jesus Christ, about whom he had heard much. Zacchaeus was very short and therefore climbed a tree to see the Lord from there. When the Lord reached the tree on which Zacchaeus was sitting, He stopped and said: “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus quickly climbed down from the tree and began to run home to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord was in his house, people grumbled at Him, saying: “Why did He come to the house of such a notorious sinner?” And Zacchaeus, shocked by Christ’s visit, stood before Him and said: “Lord, I will give half of my property to the poor, and if I have offended anyone, I will repay him fourfold” (Luke 19:5, 7–8).

What did the Lord Jesus Christ answer?

“Today salvation has come to this house, for he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9–10).

Let us delve into this Gospel narrative. Why did the Lord, walking with a huge crowd of people, suddenly turn His attention to Zacchaeus? Why did He call him by name? The fact that the Lord called him by name, having never seen him before, is not surprising, for the righteous also had knowledge of the names of people whom they saw for the first time.

Venerable Seraphim of Sarov called people by name whom he had never seen before. Elder Ambrose of Optina also called out by name from the crowd some peasant woman who had come for the first time from afar. And if the saints, who possessed a small grain of divine omniscience thanks to their great deeds, knew the names of people whom they had never seen before, then does the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Omniscient, not know the names of all people? He knows not only the name, but also the heart of every person, and he knew Zacchaeus not only by name, but as the Omniscient God knew his heart, thoughts, desires. That is why He stopped, that is why He said to Zacchaeus: “Make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” precisely because He knew the soul of this man.

What was going on in this soul? Why did Zacchaeus run forward with such passionate curiosity and climb a fig tree to look at least from afar at the Lord Jesus Christ? Because his sinful conscience was deeply alarmed by what he heard about Christ. He heard about the greatest prophet the world had ever seen. He thought in his heart: “How can I, such a cursed sinner, live such a life that people hate and despise me?”

And in this disposition of his shocked soul, he climbed up the fig tree and looked at the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Lord knew what a turning point had occurred in his sinful soul, he knew that this soul was ready for the most complete repentance, that this soul would not be difficult to save. That is why He came to Zacchaeus' house.

This divine visit to the house of Zacchaeus shocked the soul of this sinful man even more: How has the Lord Jesus Christ Himself come to me, such a cursed sinner, despised by people! And he immediately renounced his love of money and said: “Lord, I will give half of my property to the poor, and if I have offended anyone, I will repay him fourfold.” That is why the Lord Jesus Christ said to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, for he too is a son of Abraham.”

You know that the Lord saved more than one sinner, Zacchaeus, you know that robbers and harlots followed Him. Did you hear how the harlot washed His feet with her tears and wiped His head with her hair and poured precious ointment on His feet? Do you know that to the terrible thief crucified next to Him on the cross, who said: “Remember me, Lord, when you come into Your kingdom,” the Lord answered: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42–43)?

The Lord came to seek and save the lost, to seek and save not only those lost who surrounded Him many years ago - He came to seek and save all who are lost among us, for among us there are many who are perishing and lost, and among us there are grave sinners, like Zacchaeus.

Our Lord Jesus Christ came to save everyone.

He stands at the heart of each of us, and knocks, and humbly asks us to let Him into our hearts. He stops for each of us, calls us by name and calls us to repentance, and saves us.

There are many among us who have sinned gravely, whose spiritual garments are full of stench, sinners who consider themselves unworthy to look at the Cross of Christ, do not dare to enter the holy temple, considering themselves lost, doomed, believing that no one will save them and that Christ will turned away from them.

Well, is this true? No! This is completely untrue. The Lord does not turn away from anyone. He said: “He who comes to Me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). The Lord Jesus Christ said about Himself: “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

For all of us, sick, black sheep, the Lord laid down His life on the Cross of Golgotha. “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine, and Mine know Me” (John 10:14), - I know those whom I will save, I know those unfortunate ones who tremble, who consider themselves doomed. Let them know that I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down My life for the sheep.

The holy prophet Ezekiel in the 34th chapter of his book contains a formidable denunciation of unworthy priests who feed on the milk of sheep and clothe themselves with their wool, but do not care about the sheep. And so, in a formidable accusatory speech against unworthy shepherds, God, through the mouth of the holy prophet Ezekiel, says: “I will feed My sheep: and I will give them rest, says the Lord God. I will find the lost, and bring back the stolen, and bandage the wounded, and strengthen the sick, and destroy the fat and violent; I will shepherd them with righteousness” (Ezek.34:15–16).

The Lord Himself, God Himself, takes care of His sheep, He Himself will go to shepherd them if the shepherds are careless. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, who laid the sick sheep on His shoulders and carried them.

This is what we all must remember, we all must know that the Lord came to seek and save the lost. No one should fall into despair, no one should consider salvation impossible for themselves. The Lord Jesus Christ, in a huge crowd, turned His gaze to the sinful Zacchaeus.

The Lord Jesus Christ is now here among us, for He said: “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). And now the Lord Jesus Christ is among us, as He was among the crowd when He walked through the city of Jericho.

And now the Lord looks into your hearts, and looks at those who accidentally came to church today. The Lord calls them by name: “Maria, quickly go home, for I need to be with you today, for you are also a Christian, salvation has come to you too.”

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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