Sunday of Zacchaeus

The paschal season of the Church is preceded by the season of Great Lent. The first sign of the approach of Great Lent in the Byzantine (Eastern) Christian tradition comes five Sundays before its beginning. On this first preparatory Sunday the Gospel reading is about Zacchaeus the tax-collector. It tells how Christ brought salvation to this sinful man and how his life was greatly changed simply because he “sought to see who Jesus was” (Lk 19:3).

Zacchaeus SundayZacchaeus was a publican, a Jew, who was responsible for collecting taxes from his fellow citizens for the benefit of the Roman government. Publicans often collected taxes by immorally squeezing, so to say, the taxes from the people using all sorts of harassment and threats. Often demanding two to three times more than the amount they themselves were required to pay to the Roman officials, publicans were enriched at the expense of their own people’s basic needs. And Zacchaeus for this reason was very rich and was greatly disliked by the people, who called him a sinner. But this sinner awakened to his iniquity when our Lord came to Jericho and visited his home.

Confessing his disgraceful fraud, greed, and spiritually destructive love of money, Zacchaeus sincerely repented before the the Lord for all of his iniquities. He promised to make restitution by giving half of his wealth to the poor, and by paying to those he had falsely accused four times as much as they had lost. In this, he went beyond the requirements of the Law (Ex. 22:3-12).

Our lenten journey begins with a recognition of our own sinfulness, just as Zacchaeus recognized his. The desire and effort to see Jesus begins the entire movement through lent towards Pascha (Easter). It is the first step on the path to salvation.

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