Conversion of Zacchaeus, with Christ at right addressing the tax collector, who is seated in a tree at top center, Pietro Monaco, Public Domain
In the Person of Jesus Christ, God is seen and heard. This is one of the fundamental themes in St. Luke’s writings: his Gospel account and its sequel, the book of Acts (Luke 2:20; 7:22; Acts 4:20; 22:15). In these works, seeing and hearing Jesus is seeing and hearing God, it is seeing salvation having become a Man.
Two episodes from the Gospel according to St. Luke will illustrate seeing and hearing salvation, those of Simeon and Zacchaeus. Today is the first preparatory Sunday before Great Lent, and so the Church has given us the story of Zacchaeus today to reflect on what repentance looks like.
And on the Old (Julian) Calendar, tomorrow is the feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple, the final liturgical commemoration from the Christmas/Nativity season. Even though the story is about Jesus being presented in the Temple at forty days after birth, Simeon is the protagonist, who had been awaiting the consolation of Israel.
Simeon and Zacchaeus saw and heard Jesus, salvation incarnate, and were never the same again.
My eyes have seen Thy salvation
Simeon is one of the first people in St. Luke’s two-volume history to see and hear God. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One (Luke 2:26); this we may assume that he heard within his spirit or audibly, whether from God, a prophet, or from an angel.
(NB: Orthodox hagiographic tradition explains that while translating the Septuagint over two hundred years previously, an angel had informed him of as much in relation to the proper translation of Isaiah 7:14.)
But then the Anointed One finally came, and so “he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,Luke 2:28-32 ESV
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
“For my eyes have seen Your salvation.” In this forty-day-old helpless baby, Simeon sees the salvation of the world. He sees his large baby eyes, feels his soft baby skin, hears his baby coos, gurgles, cries (babies make all the sounds).
This is the consolation of Israel, the same God Who showed the world His invincible might when He led His people out of Egypt. Simeon might then have recalled Moses’ song after God saved them from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;Exodus 15:1-2 ESV; see also Ps. 118:14 and Isaiah 12:2
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.”
Just as the Lord had become Moses’ salvation, so now the Lord’s Anointed One became Simeon’s salvation—the same salvation of which he had heard and which he now sees with his own waking eyes.
“For my eyes have seen Your salvation”: a helpless little baby Who was Moses’ salvation as well.
Today salvation has come to this house
Later in St. Luke’s Gospel account, he tells of Zacchaeus, “a wee little man” with a great big desire to see Jesus. He famously climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Jesus, for which Jesus singled him out among the crush of the crowd.
(Aside: I love the KJV archaic rendering of 19:3, “And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature,” because in modern parlance this makes journalists out to be discriminatory of foreshortened people.)
Jesus says to the tree-climbing taxman, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (19:5). After Zacchaeus gives away what was in all likelihood the entirety of his possessions and wealth, Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (19:9-10).
(Another aside: Perhaps this was aimed at the “grumblers” who were scandalized that Jesus ate with Zacchaeus. The Greek term for “grumbling” (diegonguzon) is the same that is used of the Israelites “grumbling” in the wilderness in the LXX of Exodus 15:24. I can’t help but hear the onomatopoetic quality of this word, imagining a handful of people huddled together and murmuring disaffectedly amongst themselves, “Gongzzzgongzzzgongzzzgongzzz.”)
How has salvation come to Zacchaeus’s house? In the Person of Jesus Christ, Who is salvation incarnate. Like Simeon, Zacchaeus sees and hears the salvation of the world, he eats with the God of Whom Moses had written, “He has become my salvation.” Then, salvation comes to dwell within him, as in the House of the Lord.
In the Person of Jesus Christ, God is seen and heard. And He “came to seek and to save the lost,” a statement that might very well summarize the entirety of St. Luke’s two-volume sacred history.
The Lord came to seek and to save Simeon, who had been waiting for God’s consolation for his people; He came to seek and to save Zacchaeus, who must have known in the depths of his being that something “needed to give”; and He came to seek and to save every generation since, in all times and in all places.
“Today salvation has come to this house,” which is the person who is found by God.
that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you
And so it is that God continues to be seen and heard—Simeon’s and Zacchaeus’ experience of salvation incarnate may become our experience of salvation incarnate. That which the Apostles saw and heard (Acts 4:20; 22:15), they proclaimed to the next generation of Christians, who proclaimed it to the next generation of Christians, who passed this saving faith down to us in through the ascetical-sacramental tradition of the Church (cf. Exod. 13:14; Deut. 6:20).
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (koinonian) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.1 John 1:1-3 ESV
And it is primarily through the Holy Eucharist, in which we see and hear Christ speaking to us even today, that we may enter into communion (koinonia), fellowship, partnership, community, with not only those who have believed in Jesus in all times and all places, but Jesus Himself, with His Father and Holy Spirit.
How is this?
In the Divine Liturgy we hear Christ inviting us to the timeless, mystical “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9), we see the bread and the wine which is truly His Body and Blood, we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), we find salvation incarnate entering “into my joints, my members, my reins, my heart” (3rd Post-Communion prayer), we find the consolation of Israel consuming our sins with spiritual fire even as we consume the true bread from heaven (John 6:32).
Simeon and Zacchaeus heard and saw God in the Person of Jesus Christ. And today He invites us to see and hear Him as well, that we also may have the fullness of God’s mighty salvation dwelling within the “house” which is our whole self.