The Sunday before the beginning of Pre-Lent in the Orthodox Church has become known as "Zacchaeus Sunday" because of the Gospel reading for the day: Luke 19:1-10.
In this reading we hear of the short-in-height Zacchaeus, a rich chief tax-collector in his city of Jericho, who decides to climb a tree in order to look over the crowd and see Jesus who was passing by. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house" (v.5).
As Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his house, all the on-lookers complained knowing Zacchaeus' extortionate and unscrupulous profession. Instead, Zacchaeus vowed to reverse his sinful past by almsgiving and restitution, to which Jesus declared him a genuine child of God.
This account of Zacchaeus contains several key truths making it the annual gateway to our deliberate 10-week journey to participation in the mysteries of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ our Lord:
- The Lord and God Jesus is true Man who walks through Jericho and calls Zacchaeus to Himself; Jesus wants to make Zacchaeus’ house His house, our world caught in greed and idolatry His world liberated in faith and love;
- Zacchaeus, who wants for nothing material in this world, shows his true desire for the One, most important thing this world still lacks: the Savior, Jesus Christ. Zacchaeus humbles himself by climbing the tree, leaving his riches behind to see, and be seen by, Jesus;
- Our personal sense of justice is often offended, and we protest against God and others when we see Jesus showing mercy to people we consider more wicked than ourselves; however, God shows no favoritism, but instead causes us to realize our own desperate need for His grace and forgiveness, and that He seeks us out to save us;
- Christ Jesus commends Zacchaeus as a prime example of genuine, living faith manifested in his commitment to almsgiving to the poor and restoration to those he wronged.
And Jesus said to [Zacchaeus], "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:9-10).
Salvation is deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil; and positively, salvation is restoration to health in the Kingdom of God in a life of repentance, faith, and love.
Thus Zacchaeus, whose name in Hebrew means pure, or innocent, is truly a son of Abraham, a spiritual descendant and member of the family of the great Patriarch known as the father of all the faithful (cf. Rom. 4:16).
The Lord said, "But Abraham shall surely become a great and populous nation, and in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. For I know he will order his sons and his house after him, They will keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken to him" (Gen. 18:18-19).
What did the Lord promise to bring upon Abraham and his descendants? God promised ultimately to bring about the Savior of the world through Abraham. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ (Gal. 3:16; cf. Gen. 12:3 et al.).
The Orthodox Church keeps the great promises of salvation before the faithful all the time, especially as we embark on an intense spiritual season applying these promises to our everyday lives in a deliberate attempt to grow closer to God and one another in the Faith. For this our Savior Jesus Christ shows us the way through his servant Zacchaeus, the short, very rich chief tax-collector turned spiritual giant in his humility and thanksgiving to Jesus.