“Every tree which produceth not good fruit is cut off and cast into the fire.” [Mt. 7:19] The story of the stingy tax collector Zacchaeus begins our journey towards lent. There in the ancient Canaanite city of Jericho, a man that was dead in sin crawled up out of his rut into a tree and embraced the Lord, no more hiding, no more excuses!
We visited this tree in 2010 in Jericho and discovered that a Sycamore tree in the Middle Eastern region is a type of fig tree, ficus sycomorus. This species is well known to have a massive root system to sustain it. And then I am reminded that when Christ begins His journey to Jerusalem to His crucifixion, he curses a similar fig tree for not bearing good fruit. In the Gospel of St. Matthew: “Let there be no more fruit from thee forever.” And forthwith the tree was withered.” [Mt. 21:19] That was a different tree at a different time but this fig tree in Jericho in our Gospel reading today bore good fruit! Repentance had come to Zacchaeus. Saint Ephraim the Syrian says: “The fig that cast its fruit, that refused fruit, offered Zacchaeos as fruit; the fruit of its own nature it gave not, but it yielded one reasonable fruit!” [Hymn III on the Nativity, in Nicene, 2nd Ser., XIII:230.]
Zacchaeus tells Jesus that he is GONNA CHANGE! Zacchæus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, the half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I extorted anything of anyone by false charges, I give back fourfold.” [Lk. 19:8]
We have read the scripture: “But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and ‘no,’ ‘no’.[Mt. 5:37] And we know that Zaachaeus did what he said he was going to do and found repentance. He was even later made one of the Seventy Apostles. And after the Lord Ascended; he traveled with Peter and later became Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine.
Saint Gregory the Great writes: “Each of you, in his own way, inasmuch as he has a place in this present life, takes up the ground like a barren tree, if he does not produce the fruit of good works….A person who troubles the hearts of others is taking up the ground; a person who does not use the place he holds for good works is taking up the ground. But it is our duty to make intercession for people like this.” [Hom. 31, Forty Gospel Homilies, 251; Hom. 31, P.L. 76 (col. 1228).] We are to pray for each other to be fruity! We are to serve each other in love and action. Don’t be stingy, seek life in Christ!
Taste and see that the Lord is good! Climb that fig tree; pull yourselves up out of the sinful ruts that seem all too familiar and say to the Lord: “I’M A GONNA CHANGE”! And let your very existence thirst for the Lord like that invasive rooted sycamore tree seeking life-sustaining water, bearing good fruit in the middle of your desert!
Fr. Gabriel Weller 1-21-18