Much of what I do in my ministry remains private. People tell me stories of pain and hurt that I will take to my grave. Many share personal shortcomings, seek relief from guilt, and ask for direction, trusting that I will never repeat what they tell me. Sometimes the stories humble me. Other times they inspire me to pray more. There are days I go home in tears because some of the stories break my heart.
If you walked in my shoes for a month, you’d know at least four things. First, you would know that there is a God. Second, you would know that there is a lot of hurt in our world and in our parish. Third, you would know that there is no way that one priest can get to all the people. Fourth, you would know that you could help in concrete ways if you invest time in people.
For instance, what if you knew that a devout member of our community was dying and did not have life insurance? Would you help them? Would you reach in your wallet and take out $100 and say, I’ll go without something so you can have a proper funeral? Or would you shake your head and walk away, and tell yourself, “Not my problem.”
What would you do if for someone in our parish who was lonely and needed someone to talk to? Would you give up some time and listen or brush it off and think, “Someone else will take care of that”? What would you do if someone came into the coffee hour and sat alone? Would you invite them to sit at your table? Would you even notice?
What would you do if I told you, “There is someone in this parish about your age, has the same kind of job you have, comes from a similar background that needs a friend. I thought of you.” Would you be angry at my imposition? Would you make an effort to reach out to him?
What would you do if you asked someone, “How are you?” and they responded, “My whole life is falling apart, I need to talk to someone right now.” Would you cancel your plans for the rest of the day? Or would you quickly go your own way?
The Gospel lesson this morning tells us that Jesus was passing through Jericho and a tax collector named Zacchaeus wanted to see Him. Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see Jesus on account of the large crowd. And he could not get to the front of the crowd because he was so unpopular. Ironically, the name Zacchaeus means “the pure and innocent one.”
As the crowds watched Zacchaeus trying to get a glimpse of Jesus, they saw anything but a pure and innocent person. He was of the low-life, a dishonest taxman, and they certainly were not going to give him a front row seat to see Jesus. Undeterred, Zacchaeus ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree. When Jesus passed by He looked up and saw Zacchaeus and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
The greeting and invitation of Jesus was personal. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus to come to the synagogue some Saturday to hear Him explain the scriptures. He didn’t tell Zacchaeus to make an appointment with one of the disciples. He didn’t refer Zacchaeus to a committee or think for even a split second “Someone else can take care of this.” Instead, Jesus stopped and changed course.
This Gospel passage compels us to action. The mission of Christ is to seek and to save the lost. This is also the mission of Christ’s church.
Have you ever thought of the church as it relates to this story? Imagine that our church is like Jesus, and Florida is like Jericho. Who, then, is Zacchaeus?
- Zacchaeus is the person who comes to visit our church who has never been to an Orthodox Church; someone who is seeking something deeper in their spiritual life.
- Zacchaeus is the person who tries a new church every Sunday, who doesn’t even know what Orthodoxy is, who can’t seem to have their thirst for spirituality quenched anywhere they go.
- Zacchaeus is the new arrival to Tampa who is Orthodox and who comes to our church for the first time looking for a new spiritual home.
- Zacchaeus is the man or woman who is going to marry or who is married to an Orthodox Christian in the Church and is struggling to decide whether to make Orthodoxy their own faith.
- Zacchaeus is the parishioner who has attended church for many years but who is still not sure what to make of Orthodox Christianity.
- Zacchaeus is the person struggling to see Jesus but having a difficult time because they are surrounded by tragedies or other circumstances that make Christ seem far away.
- Zacchaeus the person who has scars from childhood or an abusive relationship, difficulty a job or business venture that went sour, or the sadness and grief that came when they lost someone they loved.
- Zacchaeus is the teenager struggling with their identity as an Orthodox Christian and what it means to live a Christian life at all times and in all places.
- Zacchaeus is the senior citizen who fights to stay positive even though their health is declining.
- Zacchaeus is the person tenuously clinging to life, whose every day is a challenge, just to survive.
- Zacchaeus is the one who is caring for that person.
- Zacchaeus is the person who goes to work everyday.
- Zacchaeus is the mother that stays home raising children.
- Zacchaeus is everyone in this parish, in this town, in this country and in this world who seeks to know who Jesus is.
The mission of this parish, indeed the mission of the Orthodox Church, is to seek and to save the lost. That mission is not fulfilled when we balance the books or fill the calendar with programs. Rather, it is fulfilled when we find Zacchaeus and minister to him, when we make his concern our concern, when we show that we are willing to alter the course of our life to help him, when we take on the role of Christ in telling Zacchaeus, “make haste and come down, I must stay at your house today.”