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January 26, 2020

Sermon on the Sunday of Zacchaeus (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

Commentary on the Gospel of Luke

Sermon 127

Luke 19:1-10

Behold a man named Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was chief of the publicans, a man entirely abandoned to covetousness, and whose sole object was the increase of his gains: for such was the practice of the publicans, though Paul calls it "idolatry," possibly as being fit only for those who have no knowledge of God. And as they shamelessly made open profession of this vice, the Lord very justly joined them with the harlots, thus saying to the chiefs of the Jews, "The harlots and the publicans go before you into the kingdom of God." But Zacchaeus continued not among their number, but was counted worthy of mercy at Christ's hands: for He it is Who calls near those who are afar off, and gives light to those who are in darkness.

But come then, and let us see what was the manner of Zacchaeus' conversion. He desired to see Jesus, and climbed therefore into a sycamore tree, and so a seed of salvation sprang up within him. And Christ saw this with the eyes of Deity: and therefore looking up, He saw him also with the eyes of the manhood, and as it was His purpose for all men to be saved, He extends His gentleness to him, and encouraging him, says, "Come down quickly." For he had sought to see Him, but the multitude prevented him, not so much that of the people, as of his sins; and he was little of stature, not merely in a bodily point of view, but also spiritually: and in no other way could he see Him, unless he were raised up from the earth, and climbed into the sycamore, by which Christ was about to pass. Now the story contains in it an enigma: for in no other way can a man see Christ and believe in Him, except by mounting up into the sycamore, by rendering foolish his members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, etc. And Christ, it says, was about to pass by the sycamore: for having taken for His path the conversation which is by the law, that is, the fig tree, He chose the foolish things of the world, that is, the cross and death. And every one who takes up his cross, and follows Christ's conversation, is saved, performing the law with understanding, which so becomes a fig tree not bearing figs but follies; for the secret conduct of the faithful seems to the Jews to be folly, consisting as it does in circumcision from vice, and idleness from bad practice, though they be not circumcised in the flesh, nor keep the  sabbath. He knew therefore that he was prepared for obedience; and fervent for faith, and ready to change from vice to virtue; wherefore also He calls him, and he will leave (the fig tree) to gain Him. And with haste he came down, and received Him joyfully, not only because he saw Him as he wished, but because he had also been called by Him, and because he received Him (to lodge with him), which he never could have expected.

Zacchaeus, come down quickly: for today I must abide at your house.

This was an act of divine foreknowledge; for He well knew what would happen. He saw the man's soul prepared most readily to choose a holy life, and converted him therefore to piety. The man therefore received Jesus joyfully: and this was the commencement of his turning himself to good, of his departure from his former faults, and of his manfully betaking himself to a better course.

But perchance some one possibly may say to our common Savior Christ, 'What do You, O Lord? Go You to lodge with Zacchaeus? and deign You to abide with the chief of the publicans? He has not yet washed away the stain of his greedy love of lucre: he is still sick with covetousness, the mother of all crimes: still full of the blame of rapine and extortion.' But yes, He says, I indeed know this, in that I am God by nature, and see the ways of every individual upon earth. And more than this, I know also things to come. I have called him to repentance, because he is ready thereto: and though men murmur, and blame My gentleness, facts themselves shall prove that they are wrong. "For Zacchaeus, it says, stood up, and said to the Lord, Behold, the half of whatever I possess I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded any man, I make fourfold restoration."

You behold his repentance; his rapid change to a better course; his haste to piety; the bountifulness of his love for the poor. He who lately was a publican, or rather the chief of the publicans, given up to covetousness, and set upon gain, at once becomes merciful, and devoted to charity. He promises that he will distribute his wealth to those who are in need, that he will make restoration to those who have been defrauded: and he who was the slave of avarice, makes himself poor, and ceases to care for gains.

Let not the Jewish multitudes therefore murmur when Christ saves sinners; but let them answer us this. Would they have physicians succeed in effecting cures when they visit the sick? Do they praise them when they are able to deliver men from cruel ulcers, or do they blame them, and praise those who are unskillful in their art? But, as I suppose, they will give the sentence of superiority in favor of those who arc skillful in benefiting such as suffer from diseases. Why therefore do they blame Christ, if when Zacchaeus was, so to say, fallen and buried in spiritual maladies, He raised him from the pitfalls of destruction?

And to teach them this He says, "Today there is salvation for this house, in that he also is a son of Abraham:" for where Christ enters, there necessarily is also salvation. May He therefore also be in us: and He is in us when we believe: for He dwells in our hearts by faith, and we are His abode. It would have been better then for the Jews to have rejoiced because Zacchaeus was wonderfully saved, for he too was counted among the sons of Abraham, to whom God promised salvation in Christ by the holy prophets, saying, "There shall come a Savior from Zion, and He shall take away iniquities from Jacob, and this is my covenant with them, when I will bear their sins."

Christ therefore arose, to deliver the inhabitants of the earth from their sins, and to seek them that were lost, and to save them that had perished. For this is His office, and, so to say, the fruit of His godlike gentleness. Of this will he also count all those worthy who have believed in Him: by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever, Amen.