Gospel Reading for Zacchæus Sunday
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Today is Zacchæus Sunday. We heard about Zacchæus in today’s Gospel reading: He was a tax collector. In the time when the Gospels were written, people did not like tax collectors at all. Their job was to take money from people in their city and send the money to the government, but, the tax collectors took more than what was fair, and they got rich stealing money from their neighbors. Zacchæus was no different. He took money from his neighbors and he became very rich by making his neighbors poor. If you remember from two weeks ago, Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
When Zacchæus heard Jesus was coming, something made him want to see Jesus. There was a big crowd. Zacchæus was not a tall man, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to see over the crowd of people, so he planned ahead: Zacchæus found a sycamore tree along the route where Jesus was coming, and he climbed up in the tree.
When Jesus came by, he saw Zacchæus in the tree, and called him to come down. Jesus told Zacchæus he wanted to have dinner with him. The people in the crowd didn’t like this at all, because a good, spiritual man like Jesus shouldn’t be eating with a bad, greedy man like Zacchæus.
But this is a story of repentance. Repentance is when you’ve been doing something bad, and you make a decision to stop doing the bad thing and to fix whatever you did wrong. Zacchæus repented better than almost anyone in the whole Bible: The bad thing he was doing was stealing from his neighbors. The way he fixed it was to give have of everything he had to the poor, and then to find everyone he had stolen money from and to give them back four times what he had taken!
Zacchæus was the camel who couldn’t pass through the eye of the needle, but this camel got rid of his hump—his sin that was keeping him from going through—and Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Zacchæus’ repentance saved him.
What bad things do you need to repent of? When you think of something, ask Jesus to help you. He will.
Zacchaeus is one of the best examples of repentance in the Gospels. As we prepare for Great Lent (which is, itself, preparation for Holy Week, which is preparation for Pascha) our focus should be on true repentance.
I particularly like Venerable Bede’s imagery (below) of Zacchæus being “the camel disencumbered of his hunch”. This year, the pericope of the Rich, Young Ruler came two weeks before Zacchæus Sunday, so Christ’s saying about the camel passing through a needle’s eye (or an “idle’s knee” as I once heard it read) should be fresh in our minds.
See here, the camel disencumbered of his hunch passes through the eye of a needle, that is, the rich man and the publican abandoning his love of riches, and loathing his dishonest gains, receives the blessing of his Lord’s company.Venerable Bede
Or the crowd that is, the general habit of vice, which rebuked the blind man crying out, lest he should seekthe light, also impedes Zacchaeus looking up, that he might not see Jesus; that as by crying out the more the blind man overcame the crowd, so the man weak in the faith by forsaking earthly things, and climbing the tree of the Cross, surmounts the opposing multitude.