In the Name of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Ghost.
If we had heard what the Lord said to us
last week in the story of the blind man, we must by now have looked
attentively both at our blindness and at what we can see, when, aware of
being blind we try to look deep into our soul. At every Liturgy the
Choir sings a Psalm in which one of the verses says to us, ‘The Lord
gives wisdom to the blind’ - not because they are blind, but because
their blindness separates them from the visible, from the tangible and
allow them to go deep into the invisible, into the depth of their own
soul, and deeper than their own awareness of self find themselves face
to face with the Living God.
And today we are confronted with the
story of Zacchaeus. There are two aspects in it to which I would like to
attract you attention. On the one hand, Zacchaeus speaks to us of the
most common, the most all-pervading sin which ruins our life: it is
vanity, dependence on the judgement of people, longing for their
approval, desire to be right in their eyes whatever our conscience says,
whatever the judgement of God may be.
Saint John of the Ladder says that
vanity is arrogance in the face of God and cowardice in the face of men.
And indeed, vanity is something in us, which eats in everything we do,
into every plan, into every desire, into every hope, into everything we
attempt, like rust, or to use another image of the Lord, like moth
destroys all that could be beautiful in our actions, eats into good and
evil, but destroys all of it, leaving only very little that can stand
our own judgement, the judgement of our own conscience, and the
judgement of God, but also the judgement of the people who in the end
see us as we are, and turn away from us with sadness or with revulsion.
Vanity is not the same thing as pride.
Pride, as described by the spiritual writers, is a truly devilish
attitude of one who says, ‘I am self-sufficient, I need neither God, nor
men! Neither God’s judgement, nor men’s judgement counts for me! I am my
own law, and I despise all other judgement’. How different from vanity!
Vanity consists of our longing, our desire to be approved of whatever
the cost - and that is the terrible thing: whatever the cost! Even at
the cost of our integrity, even at the cost of our faith, of our loyalty
to God, of our loyalty to others, not to be condemned, not to be judged
And in the case of Zacchaeus, we see a
man who proved able, because he so longed to be with God, so longed to
see Him, the God come to save sinners, that he turned away, he trod
under foot his own vanity. He, a man well known in his city, a man who
was respected, a man who had a social standing, like a street boy
climbed upon a tree to see Christ because he was small of stature and
the crowd prevented him from meeting the gaze of His Saviour. How much
he must have heard of laughter, of jokes, of cat-cries! But it mattered
nothing to him; what mattered was to see Christ.
Who of us has the courage to act in a
similar way? Not to take, perhaps, that risk, but any risk? A few years
ago, a young man came to see me who complained that we had few young
men, or men altogether in our midst; and I said to him, ‘Have you
brought your friends here?’ He looked at me with horror and said, ‘I
couldn't possibly speak of my faith to my friends! They might laugh at
me!’ That was an example of the way in which we treat God, our true,
deepest convictions, our own selves, ultimately.
And then, there is another aspect in the
story of Zacchaeus. Because he had overcome vanity, because what
mattered to him at that moment was not men's judgement but only the
possibility - or otherwise - of seeing God face to face, Christ saw him
alone, in the whole crowd, called him, and came to his place.
And this is the second feature which I
want to underline, because what Zacchaeus did, was not simply to rejoice
in the coming of the Lord. He made the next step; he said to Him, ‘All I
have done evil, I will put right! I will put right tenfold!’ This is the
second condition of our salvation as presented in today's Gospel: it is
not enough to shake away for one moment our vanity, our dependence upon
people's judgement, to stand for one moment before the eyes of God, and
then go away happily and satisfied - no! This only a beginning! And the
real thing begins at the moment when we say to the Lord, ‘All that I
have done wrong, within my power but without fear, without greed, I will
restore and repair’.
And so this is what we are confronted with this week. We
must look deep into ourselves and ask ourselves, ‘How much does vanity
destroy my life? How much does it eat into good and evil? How much does
it destroy the beauty that is woven into my soul?’ And secondly, if we
see, however little of it - turn to God, turn to life decisively, and
start putting right. But not lightly, not just enough to be satisfied
with ourselves, but radically, ruthlessly, courageously, because the
question is, ‘Shall I become one of the followers of Christ, or shall I
have a passing emotion that will die within me, and shall I be again
where I was - vain, that is empty, worth of nothing?’ Amen.