Every year I experience the same surprise when I realize that the coming Sunday is Zacchaeus Sunday, the first Sunday that “officially” announces the approach of Great Lent. Although there are no hymns from the Lenten Triodion for this Sunday (the sole expression of the day is the reading from St. Luke concerning Zacchaeus at the Liturgy), it is nevertheless the harbinger of the arrival of the season of the Great Fast.
Wouldn’t it be something if we greeted the Great Fast with the same enthusiasm that children greeted Christmas? If we jumped up and down and said, “It’s Zacchaeus Sunday! Only four week till Great Lent!” Or if we looked forward with enthusiasm to Great Lent the way we look forward to a two-week vacation?
I suppose in one sense those really aren’t fair comparisons. After all, the enthusiasm of children for Christmas is - well - childish. We “mature” adults seldom get that enthusiastic about anything. (Now whether that is a sign of maturity or not is probably open to debate.)
And comparing Lent to a vacation, really? I mean, vacation is a break from work. And Lent is, well, work. So honestly, why would we be enthusiastic about the arrival of Great Lent? It is a fair question.
But it is also a question that betrays our vision of what Lent is all about. Or perhaps I should say, our lack of vision. For, you see, Zacchaeus wanted to see! He wanted a vision of Jesus. And being, as the children’s song says, “a wee little man” he needed a better vantage point. And so he decided to go up a tree to get a better view. And to his surprise he got not only a view but he got a viewing. Christ saw him!
So, brothers and sisters, it’s Zacchaeus Sunday! Lent is coming! Lent is coming! But let’s not try to wring some false enthusiasm out of our tired, old, world-weary souls. And let us utterly reject any attempt to guilt-trip ourselves into getting “pumped up” for Great Lent. We don’t need to try and yank all our emotional ropes and levers to manufacture some short-lived enthusiasm. All we need to is to want to see Jesus. And to be seen by Him. If we want that then Great Lent will be for us, as it has always been for saints and sinners, a great gift.
With love in Christ,
Zacchaeus was indifferent to the crowd’s good opinion and willingly bore shame for Christ’s sake. And this is precisely why the Lord noticed him; in Zacchaeus, He saw a spiritual kinship with Himself. The Lord Jesus Himself was on His way to Jerusalem to bear reproach and suffering for the salvation of the world. He was journeying towards the Cross of shame; and Zacchaeus, in a prophetic way, put himself in the way of Christ and therefore endured shame. His desire for salvation drew the Lord to him not only as a fellow-traveller, but also as a guest at his table. And the Lord’s visit did indeed bring peace and the grace of salvation to his house. Above all, however, it enlarged his heart ‘fourfold’ – and this turned his life around. The ‘fourfold’ nature of his conversion signifies Zacchaeus’ assimilation into the mystery of the depth, the height, the length and breadth of the Cross of Christ (cf. Eph. 3:18). In other words, by putting himself in the way of the Lord, that is, the way of shame for the sake of salvation, Zacchaeus’ heart underwent a fourfold enlargement, meaning that he was reborn unto the boundlessness….
~Archimandrite Zacharias, The Hidden Man of the Heart