Homily:Sunday of Zacchaeus. Push past the press!

Zacchaeus the publican. zaccchaeus-the-publican.jpg In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. [1]

Brothers and sisters, today is Zacchaeus Sunday; it one of the five Sundays that precedes Great Lent and helps us prepare for the Great Fast. 


Zacchaeus was a publican and very rich.  This meant that he was very corrupt because the way publicans became rich was by extorting more money than the Romans actually taxed.  They were Jews, but they extorted their own people for their own personal gain. 


Zacchaeus had heard about Christ; everybody had heard about Christ.  He was the “happening” thing at that time and He was an event wherever He went.  People came out of curiosity, as well because they believed or wanted to be healed. 


As Christ is coming into town, passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus hears about His arrival.  And something in Zacchaeus’ soul, although he probably didn’t even understand it at that time, desired to see Christ.  Perhaps he had some hope he could change and amend his life, even though he had been so far away from God for so long because he had been so corrupt; hurt so many; lied, stolen.  Probably he contributed to people’s death by extorting money from poor widows and such.  But he wanted to see Christ, but he was small, short, and the crowd was large and he wouldn’t be able to see Christ.  So, being a clever man, he ran ahead and climbed into a tree so he could see Christ. 


Now what do we understand from this?  The Scripture is a historical record, but it is also a mystical teaching.  This historical event teaches spiritual truths, and teaches us how to live.  Now, I have also told you that you should read the Scriptures to see how they apply to you, both the good and the bad.  When you see a sinner in the Scriptures, beg the Lord to forgive you of your sins.  When you see someone righteous, confessing in the Scriptures, beg the Lord that you would have the strength to do the same.  When you see Zacchaeus, beg the Lord that you would be freed of any avarice, any grabbing on to money, any greed, any dishonesty, any lack of compassion … all these things that Zacchaeus had in abundance, like shall we say, a legion of sins [2]


Also, when you see Zacchaeus, notice how he climbed up into a tree.  Even though he was hindered from seeing Christ, he didn’t give up.  The press is the crowd of people who were keeping him from seeing because he was short.  I ask you look at the spiritual meaning of what the press is — it is our sins, our passions, our worldly concerns, our false priorities.  And also the press is our shame.  It is important to understand this.  Many of us understand about our sins and desire not to sin anymore, but this press of shame often keeps us from seeing God because what God wants you to do when you sin is to run to Him, and the “press” is a formidable obstacle between us and the arms of our Father.


Our Lord uses the image of a child to teach us what our disposition should be after we sin.  A child who has been in a normal family with parents that love him when he sins and his parents scold him or spank him, what does he do?  He cries big tears and then he hugs his parent and says, “I’m sorry” immediately.  This is how we should be when we sin so we can see Christ again because sin makes our eyes grow dim.  We are not able to see Christ when we sin. 


We should be like Zacchaeus; when we sin we should push pass the press.  And the press indeed is often our own shame; our own incredulity about our sins.  Why are you surprised when you sin?  I have said this to some of you in confession, probably almost everybody.  Why be surprised when you sin?  Why be offended when you sin?  Your sinning shouldn’t offend you.  Your sinning offends God.  When you sin, push past that pride that the devil puts in your way and struggle to repent of that sin so that you will restore full communion with God in your soul. 


Brothers and sisters, the press is just not entanglements in the world.  We create our own press.  The press could be depression; this press could be despondency; this press could be our shame.  Or it could be other sins: laziness, wrong priorities, anything that keeps us from Christ …all these things are the press. 


You must find a way around the press.  If you do not have the strength to push past it, then find a way to be over it like Zacchaeus was.  And how did he find his way to be able to see Christ?  By rising up, by going into the tree.  Always, the only way that we can accomplish anything is by having our eyes on Christ, by thinking of things above and not earthly.  So if there is something that you cannot conquer, something that grieves you, something that saddens you, then you must climb the tree, you must make the effort to pray and as part of your praying to be struggling to follow the Commandments. 


Now Zacchaeus didn’t know these things.  All he wanted to do was see Christ.  Now Christ saw that there was a good heart buried under all that corruption in Zacchaeus.  So when He passed by him, He said, “Zacchaeus make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thine house.” 


Now this occurs with us, too, brothers and sisters.  When our Lord sees that we have pushed past the press, even if it is only a small amount, even if we are still in the middle of the crowd, but struggling to get out, even if we haven’t made it to the tree, much less been able to climb it with exalted thoughts and prayer, the Lord sees this and says, “Make haste, make haste.  I will abide with you.”  Make haste means: “consider My living inside you, My Grace that I give you to be the most critical and important thing in your entire life.  Run to it!  Order your life according to it!”  Make haste today.  Today salvation comes to our house, and every day because the Kingdom of God is within us. 


God is very close, very near brothers and sisters.  And He is constantly telling us, “Make haste!  Come down!  Be with Me.  Learn of Me.  I am meek and lowly.  My yoke is easy.  Learn of Me.  I am sweet; a sweetness that you cannot experience in anything else.  I am joy, a joy which you cannot obtain from anything earthly.  I am incorruptible and I will make you who are corrupted perfect.”  The Lord says this often, brothers and sisters. 


Do you hear Him say, “Make haste”?  Do you hear Him say, “Today I will abide in your house”, that is, your soul?  Do you hear this?  A Christian should hear this.  Everyday you should be trying to prepare your house; make it a little bit cleaner.  A little bit more straightened up, so that the Lord would abide in it as an honored guest. 


Now Zacchaeus had not repented of any of his sins before the Lord said, “Come down.”, but the Lord knew he would.  The Lord accepts us because of our potential brothers and sisters.   We can become perfected; He knows how to accomplish it.  The only thing He asks of us is that we make haste; the only thing He asks of us is that we make an effort.  That we struggle, that we try, that when obstacles are in our lives, we find ways around them by His grace and with His help and with our effort. 


They go and have dinner at Zacchaeus’ house.  Zacchaeus is full of joy because here was a Rabbi, a great teacher, who accepted him.  No one else accepted him because he had defrauded so many people.  And he felt joy.  There must have been such a feeling in his heart at the time of joy and expectation and that maybe he could change now.  Maybe he could put off this burden that had been dragging his conscience down for so many years. 


But there are people in the crowd, at the dinner, that are saying that he is a sinner and they are murmuring about it.  The Lord hears this and so does Zacchaeus.  So he pledges to the Lord, “Behold, the half of my goods I give to poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold.”  If you work out the math, basically Zacchaeus has just impoverished himself.  A person who has been accustomed to silk pillows and the finest of foods and an abundance of wine and probably to wealthy courtesans to give him his every whim and wish, suddenly is going to make himself poor for the sake of Christ.  This is repentance, brothers and sisters, this is contrition. 


The Lord requires this of us; requires that we give up what we were so that we can become what we should be.  Jesus waits for Zacchaeus to say this (of course He knew he was going to say it), and when He hears it says, “This day is salvation come to this house.”  Now what is salvation, brothers and sisters?  In the West, salvation is thought of in such a miniscule fashion.  There is such poverty in the minds of people when they consider what salvation is!  Most people think that salvation is that when you die, you go to heaven.  Salvation is, “Well, you have sins and Jesus Christ pays the penalty of your sins and you go to heaven.” 


May it never be that we have such a small view! Salvation is restoration, brothers and sisters.  Salvation is completion.  Salvation is being made perfect.  Salvation is being able to cast off everything that hurts, everything that is heavy, and to be able to see Christ as He is, to be able to know the true nature of things.  Salvation is when a soul changes.  And Zacchaeus was changing. 


Brothers and sisters, do you hear the Lord telling you to make haste?  Do you hear the Lord saying salvation has come to your house?  Do you hear the Lord telling you about His sweetness?  About his perfection? About His love for you?  Do you hear these things?  Perhaps you don’t hear these things.  You should hear them everyday.  If you don’t hear, this is because you have sins that are holding you down. 


Push past the press, brothers and sisters.  The whole world is going to go away.  It is going to be recreated.  Everything will be made new.  Will you be new?  If you have not become new, if you have not changed, then you will be like that old piece of cloth…it can’t be put on a new wineskin [3].  Brothers and sisters, be like Zacchaeus.  Press past the crowd; find a way to see Christ.  And when Christ speaks to you, make haste and come down and do everything in your power so that He may abide in your house and never leave.  May God help you in all things.  Amen.

[1] This homily was preached at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, Texas, on Zacchaeus Sunday, 2002

[2] Cf. Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30

[3] [Mat 9:17]  Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.



  1. Thank you, Father!

    Have been working with my email, and saw the letter announcing your homily…

    Zacchaeus is really an ambiguous personality, and what he did is extraordinary. Here God also shows us that repentance is possible – in all circumstances, for every person – whether it refers to ourselves or others – whoever & whatever they are. Non is doomed to failure. Non should be condemned in our heart – as the last judgment belongs to God.

    But what Zacchaeus did is possible only…when we feel ourselves that SMALL. Small & helpless in front of God. The bigger we feel, the more important, the more significant for others, the less are our chances to run, to climb up the tree, to rush through the public, press past the crowd. To hurry to Christ, having given up our grudges, fears, disbelief.

    Our height & size, imaginary ones, make us lazy, clumsy, make us very dependent on people’s opinions, make us seek respect & appraisal. But if we continue looking around in search of approval & applause, our “train may be gone” very soon. Paying much attention on ourelves, we run the risk even not to hear and notice that Christ is passing by…

    Lord, help me feel my littleness, to be able to acquire a big heart, capable of accepting Christ…

  2. Thank you, Father (and for your additions, Natalia) for bringing me another helpful metaphor:

    It was my short stature combined with the ‘circumstances’ of the crowd that kept me from seeing His face. These circumstances were not just the press of my sins but the great obstacles of prejudice and ignorance. The shouts of the crowd and the burning in my heart told me that He was near and coming nearer–but I could not reach Him. I struggled and pushed and shoved my way through the crowd (hurting some of them in the process) in my ever increasingly desperate attempt to reach the Master. At one point it seemed that the crowd would overcome me. I tripped and fell and those around me, unaware of my presence on the ground, with their attention diverted by their own efforts to push through the crowd, almost trampled me to death. But the Lord provided the tree. And He provided me with the will and the last bit of strength to grab hold of the tree and begin to climb.

    Who can tell of that moment of that first brief, distant, but finally unobstructed glimpse of His face? Or even more amazing, of that instant when He calls to us directly and tells us that He is coming to abide in our house?

    Sometimes I am back down in the crowd, being pressed on all sides by my sins. Other times I am once again struggling up the tree. But at other times I catch a glimpse of His face, hear His voice calling to me and watch Him coming to bring salvation to the house of this great sinner.

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