Zacchaeus: Desiring Spiritual Growth

The Parable of Zacchaeus   (Luke 19:1-10)

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.  Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.  And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.  And 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.”  So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.  But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”  Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”  And Jesus said to him, “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.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann (d. 1983) remarks:

“The very first announcement of Lent is made the Sunday on which the Gospel lesson about Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:1-10) is read. It is the story of a man who was too short to see Jesus but who desired so much to see Him that he climbed up a tree. Jesus responded to his desire and went to his house. Thus the theme of this first announcement is desire. Man follows his desire. One can even say that man is desire, and this fundamental psychological truth about human nature is acknowledged by the Gospel: ‘Where your treasure is,’ says Christ, ‘there shall your heart be.’   A strong desire overcomes the natural limitations of man; when he passionately desires something he does things of which ‘normally’ he is incapable. Being ‘short’, he overcomes and transcends himself. The only question, therefore, is whether we desire the right things, whether the power of desire in us is aimed at the right goal, or whether – in the words of the existentialist atheist, Jean Paul Sartre – man is a ‘useless passion.’ Zacchaeus desired the ‘right thing’; he wanted to see and approach Christ. He is the first symbol of repentance, for repentance begins as the rediscovery of the deep nature of all desire: the desire for God and His righteousness, for the true life. Zacchaeus is ‘short’ – petty, sinful and limited – yet his desire overcomes all this. It ‘forces’ Christ’s attention; it brings Christ to his home. Such, then, is the first announcement, the first invitation: ours is to desire that which is deepest and truest in ourselves, to acknowledge the thirst and hunger for the Absolute which is in us whether we know it or not, and which, when we deviate from it and turn our desires away, makes us indeed a ‘useless passion.’ And if we desire deeply enough, strongly enough, Christ will respond.” (Great Lent, pp 17-18)

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