Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus, Who He was, but could not for the press of the crowd, because he was short of stature.
On this Sunday that signals to us the nearness of the Great and Holy Fast of Lent, we find our old familiar friend, Zacchaeus, clamoring to see Jesus as He makes His way through the city of Jericho on His way to Jerusalem where the Tree of the Cross awaits Him (Lk. 18:31-34). There are several things the Evangelist notes about this Zacchaeus, things that St. Luke must have found noteworthy. First, that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector there in that place. This means, because he worked in league with Rome, he was despised despite his social status in that place. Tax collectors were notorious for extortion, for assessing the population more than the law called for and pocketing the excess. This means Zacchaeus was a sinner of the worst kind. For all intents and purposes, he was beyond redemption, unsalvageable, at least in the minds of his neighbors.
Second, he was rich. Filthy rich. And he had become so precisely by taking advantage of his position as the chief publican, maybe even using his knowledge to line his pockets at the expense of others and abusing his authority, which Rome didn’t seem to care about so long as they got what was coming to them. Some things just don’t seem to change no matter the day or age or the culture. Corruption is corruption is corruption.
Third, he wanted to see Jesus, “Who He was,” Luke says. There was something stirring in this corrupt heart of his regarding this Jesus. There was something about the Master that captured his attention, intrigued him so, that he felt compelled enough to go to great lengths just to lay his eyes on this Jesus. I wonder what we would do or to what lengths we would go in order to see Jesus? Perhaps word of our Lord’s healing of the blind man as He was approaching the old city preceded Him, and Zacchaeus grew curious (Lk. 18:35-43)? We already know from other Gospel accounts that other rich persons were attracted to Jesus. There was something compelling in His demeanor and His message. Something that stirs up the human heart to want what it is Jesus is offering. We also know that the rich frequently are sent away empty from Him (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 2:1-10; Ps. 33 :10; Magnificat). Indeed, much to St. Peter’s surprise, our Lord once remarked how terribly hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, He quipped, “’It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God’” (Lk. 18:18-30).
And yet, here is Zacchaeus, determined as ever to see this Jesus, this Joshua, coming once again to Jericho, to deliver Jericho and save her people. He comes conquering through His Presence, His mercy, and His compassion. He comes “’to seek and to save that which was lost,’” even the likes of Zacchaeus the reprobate tax collector.
Fourth, Zacchaeus is “a wee little man, and a wee little man was he,” as the children’s ditty goes. Zacchaeus, according to the Evangelist, “was short in stature.” Now, I don’t think St. Luke was poking fun at Zacchaeus, but he does find his stature notable enough to make mention of it. Maybe to explain why this notorious but prominent older man defies all social propriety and shinnies up a sycamore tree to get a better looksee at this Jesus, to “see Who He was,” as He passed through the city streets.
This is not the first time in Sacred Scripture that the stature of a man has been noted. Recall with me the first king of Israel named Saul. Saul, unlike Zacchaeus, stood head and shoulders above his fellow countrymen (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 9:1-2). By all appearances, he was the man for the job of ruling the people of God. He was a choice man, says the Prophet, and goodly. Indeed, there was no one among the children goodlier than Saul! Zacchaeus, on the other hand, was barely noticeable most of the time, except for his ill repute. Saul the king was great; Zacchaeus not so great. He is small in stature, like a child, to show us something the Lord must have seen in this “wee little man” dangling from the limb of that old sycamore tree. Inside that man was the image of God, damaged by sin, but not beyond divine redemption and love. Here was one who could pass through the eye of the needle by becoming as a little child. That’s what Jesus said, remember, when He said, “’Suffer little children to come to Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein’” (Lk. 18:15-17).
Unless we become as children. Zacchaeus in his smallness shows us how to enter the Kingdom of God. By becoming small in our pride and self-promotion. Zacchaeus was short in stature, but moreso, he was humble or allowed himself to be humbled. Jesus does that to people. His Presence stirs us up and we either hate Him or love Him, want Him or reject Him, embrace Him or push Him away, cast away all things for His sake in order to gain His Kingdom or circle the wagons and protect what is ours, or so we think.
Consider, brethren, how blessed in Sacred Scripture the small are. Saul the king, giant that he was in the eyes of his brethren, ultimately, was rejected by God because he got too big for his britches and took upon himself what was reserved alone for the Prophet Samuel (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 13:8-14). Saul’s great pride got in the way. Great was Saul in stature but it did not reflect his soul. Remarkable in height, but unremarkable spiritually. Consider yet again, beloved, how Israel was the runt of the litter. They were hand-picked by God from among all the nations of the world, not because they were bigger and badder, sleeker and faster, than all the others. No! But solely because God had set His love upon them, Moses says, and because God is not an oath-breaker but a steadfast keeper of His word of promise (Dt. 7:6-10). Consider still, brethren, the great giant Goliath towering upwards to 9’ tall, by some standards, and the youth, David. Surely, Goliath has the upper hand in the battle that is about to ensue. But, what happens, do you recall? The shepherd boy, David, “’a man after [God’s] own heart’” (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 13:14; Ac. 13:22), takes up a small smooth stone, puts it in his sling, and strikes the great Goliath between the eyes, killing him (1 Kg. [1 Sm.] 17:1-58). A boy, yes, humble in stature. But a great warrior is David precisely because he was “’a man after [God’s] own heart.’”
Beloved, Zacchaeus our brother is small – small in stature, small in soul, small in heart. But that’s what made him a prime candidate for salvation! “’Verily I say unto you, unless ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child,’” says our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, “’the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven’” (Mt. 18:3-4). Unless we are willing to become small . . . . . . . This is what makes us candidates for God’s salvation. “Meditate upon these things,” holy brethren, and “give [yourselves] wholly to them” (1 Tm. 4:9-15). For “’this day is salvation come to this house, . . . .’”
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Tm. 4:9-15