I don’t know why it is but this year, like last year, and the last couple of years, this particular Sunday takes me by surprise. I’m going along, minding my own business, then bam Zacchaeus jumps out from behind the sycamore tree and says: “Great and Holy Lent is around the corner.” Next week, the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, begins the Lenten Triodion, the three-week “ramp up” to Forgiveness Vespers and Great Lent. Gradually, the Church will wean herself of dairy products, olive oil, wine, and meat and eggs. We will be confronted with our hypocritical judgmentalism in the Pharisee and our need for humble repentance in the tax collector. We will be forced to let go the rigidity of the elder son, and own up to our own sinful wanderings in the prodigal son. We will face the last Judgment and our deeds to the least of these in whom Christ is present. And we will seek, give and receive the forgiveness of all in our local parish, and among our family and friends, even our enemies.
With such a preparation, we are then ready to face the testing of Great Lent, and to find in that testing and its culmination, Zacchaeus’ desire, our heart’s desire: to see Christ himself. This desire is awakened in us today. May we fan it to flame in the coming days.
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.