Zacchaeus Sunday (Feb. 17)
+ Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
(This year Orthodox Great Lent starts Sunday night, March 17 with Forgiveness Vespers. On Sunday, February 17, Orthodox Christians will commemorate the first of five Pre-Lenten Sundays. We will hear in Church the lesson concerning Zacchaeus, the chief of the tax collectors, from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 19, verses 1-10. The following is a sermon given on Zacchaeus Sunday by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, on January 20, 1991).
In these weeks of preparation for Lent, we were faced last Sunday with the story of Bartimaeus to attract our attention on our own blindness; our spiritual blindness of which we are not aware, while physical blindness is so clearly perceived; but also on the fact that if we want to recover our sight, our spiritual vision, our understanding of self, of God, of our neighbor, of life, there is only one Person to whom we can turn - it is God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus had tried all means to recover his sight, but it is only when he turned to Christ that he did recover it. (The story of the blind man is read on January 20 of this year).
Whether we have taken advantage of the past week to reflect deeply on our own blindness, and in the darkness to begin to see some light, I do not know; each of us will have to answer for his eagerness or his laziness.
But today we are confronted with a new parable, or rather, a new story of the life of Christ: the story of Zacchaeus. This story speaks to us again directly and the question which is been asked from us is this: What matters to me more? The good opinion of people around me, that people should not jeer at you, laugh at you because you are seeking to see God, to meet Him, or the necessity, the inner call to discover everything provided you can see Christ face to face? Is vanity stronger in us or the hunger for God? Saint John of the Ladder says clearly that vanity is contempt of God and cowardice before men. What is our attitude: are we prepared to discard everything, provided we can meet God - or not? And in our circumstances it is not so much people who will prevent us, people will not jeer at us, they will not laugh at us: they will be totally indifferent; but this does not mean that we like beggars do not turn to them, hoping for their approval, and in order to receive this approval, turn away from our search, from the only thing that can heal us and give us new life.
Also, we will find within ourselves conflicting voices, saying, "Don't! Don't make yourself ridiculous! Don't single yourself out by a search which is not necessary; you have got everything... Zacchaeus was rich, Zacchaeus was known as an honorable citizen - so are we! We possess so much, we are respected - are we going to start on a road that will make us into what Paul calls 'the scum of the earth’, debase us?" This is the question which today's story of Zacchaeus says to us: is vanity, that is the search of things which are vain, empty, and the fear of other people's opinion that will prevail, or (will it be) the hunger each of us has, at times, acute for a meeting with the living God? Amen.