Although the pre-Lenten period is nearly complete, and the Great Fast (Lent) begins on Monday, I can’t help but think about Zacchaeus, whose story we heard in the Gospel four weeks ago—the first liturgical sign that the Great Fast is approaching! We’ve heard the stories of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son and the Last Judgment these past few weeks, all preparing us for the state of mind and heart that we will need to begin the Lenten journey, but I have to say that of these pre-Lenten Sundays, Zacchaeus Sunday was the most profound for me this year (and I don’t think it was just because I have empathy for short people…).
It seems that the story of Zacchaeus teaches us about ourselves and about Christ. There is a lot of humility happening in this story. Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, is willing to look foolish in order to see Christ, and Christ, the Son of God, is willing to endure skeptical murmuring by entering the house of a public sinner. Because of the humility of each in that moment, the two—God and Man—encountered one another, and salvation was the result.
What a mystery it is that in the humbling of ourselves we become more like Christ! St. Gregory of Nazianzus said, “What greater destiny can befall man’s humility that he should be intermingled with God, and by this intermingling should be deified” (The Fourth Theological Oration: On the Son, 3).
As the Great Fast begins, let’s enter it with the zeal of Zacchaeus. Let’s stretch ourselves to climb that tree. Jesus is coming to revisit Zacchaeus in us…if we let Him. He desires our conversion. He desires it so much that He’s willing to completely humble Himself to come into the house of our hearts. And then He himself will climb the tree—the tree of the cross.