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.
Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ now comes to the city of Jericho – a city with a long history and several locations. Our Lord is on His way to the holy city of Jerusalem and we find Him passing through Jericho. But, before He does, as He approaches “the city of palms” (Jg. 3:13) or of “palm trees” (Dt. 34:3), He first encounters a blind man whom we have come to call “blind Bartimaeus” from the Gospel of St. Mark (Mk. 10:46-52) which identifies him as “the son of Timaeus.” Interestingly enough, it was another Jesus – Joshua – who had once come to this city and conquered it. Today, Jesus the Son of God also comes to this city to likewise conquer it, but not in the way His namesake had done. Jesus the Christ comes to conquer by way of salvation: by healing the blind man and bringing to repentance an outcast son of Abraham. He comes to make the Kingdom of God indeed present in that place to the souls of Jericho, to reveal and make known the mercies of God and His long-suffering with all sinners for the sake of their salvation (1 Tm. 4:9-15).
The stories of blind Bartimaeus (Lk. 18:35-43) and of Zacchaeus share common elements or themes. There are crowds to contend with which hinder both men from getting close to Jesus. In fact, the crowd attempts to shout down the blind beggar as he calls out to the Lord for mercy while the crowd surrounding Jesus as He makes His way through the city streets nearly obscures Him from Zacchaeus’ sight “because he was short in stature.” Both men are blind: Bartimaeus literally cannot see while Zacchaeus, though having sight, cannot see spiritually. In both cases, however, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, our Joshua, takes note of both men. Having heard the prayerful pleas of the blind beggar, Jesus stands still and commands that he be brought to Him while in Zacchaeus’ case, Jesus stops beneath the branches of the sycamore tree into which Zacchaeus had climbed to get a better view. He looks up at the dangling, silly old chief publican and He speaks directly to him, commanding him to come down. In the case of Bartimaeus, our Lord asks him his heart’s desire while He tells Zacchaeus that He must stay with him at his house today as though our Lord already knows what’s on Zacchaeus’ heart. In the case of the blind beggar’s healing God is rightly praised and glorified by the people while in the case of Zacchaeus the people murmur against the Son of God like in the old days of Israel who characteristically whined and murmured against God’s goodness. The crowd complains because Jesus voluntarily chooses to be the guest of a known sinner – and a big one at that!
But, God is the Lover of all men and He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Tm. 2:4; 4:9-15). A soul is a soul is a soul for whom “’the Son of Man is come to seek and to save . . . .’” In both cases, each man had to cooperate with God for the healing of soul and body: the blind and needy beggar refuses to be stifled and prays without ceasing like the old tenacious widow in search of justice (Lk. 18:1-8; 1 Th. 5:17) and Zacchaeus moves in the direction of the Saviour and his salvation by doing what he needed to do like climb the tree. Salvation was present in Jericho that day. Salvation was ambling down its streets, soon to pass him by, and Zacchaeus had to respond, lest God’s grace and mercy pass him by. Zacchaeus had to act to attract the grace of God to his soul.
And so, what does the old chief sinner do? He does the only sensible thing any of us can ever do – he humbled himself and he became as a little child. Because as our Lord once said, “’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). Humility attracts the grace of God. Zacchaeus the grown and mature sinner casts aside his last ounce of pride, humbles himself under the almighty hand of God (1 Pe. 5:5-7) and shinnies up the tree so he can see Jesus, so he can get a glimpse of salvation.
Something in this seemingly hardened chief of sinners is responding to the grace of God. Maybe Zacchaeus didn’t even know exactly. For the heart is a great and complex mystery. It is “’deep beyond all things,’” says God Almighty, “and it is the man. Even so, who can know him? I, the Lord, examine hearts and test minds, to give each man according to his ways and the fruits of his practices’” (Jr. 17:5-6 [9-10]). In the depths of the heart lie the darkest of all evils and in the same heart the sublimes of all goodness! “O wretched man that I am!,” cries another notorious scoundrel, chief of sinners though he be. “Who will deliver me from the body of death?” And then the light of grace and mercy dawns, once obscured from sight, “I thank God,” he cries out, “through Jesus Christ our Lord! . . . There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rm. 7:24-8:1). “’I tell you,’” says our Lord, “’this man went down to his house justified, . . .; for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted’” (Lk. 18:9-14).
Zacchaeus, beloved, is moved in his soul to repentance because of the prevenient grace of God – the divine grace that always goes before us to receive us when we return to the Lord. God, Who has humbled Himself and condescended to take on our flesh and blood (Pp. 2:5-11), now looks up into the eyes of the dangling sinner above Him and He says to him, “’Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house.’” Repentance compels the sinner to “’make haste’” to do the Lord’s bidding. True repentance always does. Zacchaeus doesn’t make excuses. He makes haste. He climbs back down out of the tree. He humbled himself and became as a little child and the Lord exalted him. The Lord lifts up this sinful but penitent soul and He restores him as “’a son of Abraham.’”
If we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and stop making excuses, He will lift us up in due time (1 Pe. 5:5-7). God restores repentant sinners to their rightful place as sons and daughters of God Most High, if we make haste and come down from our high horses and exalted perches. Repentance always leads us to the amendment of our lives. When we turn from our sin, we turn to God to do as He bids us. Amending our lives is a necessary component of true repentance. It is the fruit of a “broken and contrite heart” that God does not despise (Ps. 50 :1-19). It is the outcome of a conscience rightly convicted by divine Truth to turn from its wicked ways and to live in the ways of God (2 Ch. 7:14; Ek. 18:31-32; 33:11). In this case, the repentant Zacchaeus makes restitution above and beyond what the Law required of him! When we repent, we accept the consequences of our past actions and we make amends insofar as we are able to do.
“’Today, Zacchaeus, I must stay at thy house.’” That’s what our Lord says. “Today is the day of thy salvation, Zacchaeus. Today, not tomorrow, lest I pass thee by.” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cr. 6:2). “’Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’” (Rv. 3:20). Jesus keeps His word. What He promises, He does. “’Today salvation has come to this house, . . . .’” What are we waiting for? Why do we linger as though none of us have need of repentance? Have we not sinned since our last confession? Do we not need His absolution from the priest? Do we not need to receive the Lord Jesus, our Joshua, our Saviour, once more under the roof of our souls in the Mystery of Repentance and Reconciliation? Or, are we too mature now for such things? For, unless we become as a little child…
Jesus stands knocking at the door of our hearts. Why do we not open the door as only we can? No one else can do that for us. And Jesus certainly won’t bust it in. Today is salvation, beloved, today; tomorrow may not be. Here is our Jericho and Jesus is passing through. We have crowded around to see Him Who comes in the Name of the Lord. It doesn’t get any better than this, any closer than this! Why risk His departure? Or, do we believe that would never happen to us? Make haste, beloved, do not tarry; do not linger. He waits for us . . . for now. Throw self-respect to the wind and hurry down from the tree of pride and sin, and come to the Lord Who bids us, “Come, eat and drink of Me. Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood. Have My Eternal Life dwelling in you” (Jn. 6:51-58). What the mouth receives the soul partakes. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who puts his hope in Him” (Ps. 33 :1-22).
Beloved, when our Lord tells Zacchaeus that He must stay at his house, our Lord’s desire is to take up residence there, though He will not stay there physically on a permanent basis. He comes, however, to dwell and abide and tabernacle in the receptive, humble abode of our repentant souls, making us His living temples. Long after Jesus left Jericho for Jerusalem, He abides there nonetheless in the heart and soul of the newly restored and reconciled penitent Zacchaeus. “’Abide with us, [Lord,],’” is our prayer, “’for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And [Jesus] went in to stay with them” (Lk. 24:29).
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