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Pay back the money: the Pope and the President

25 January 2015

Summary of a sermon preached in Mamelodi East, Tshwane, on the Sunday of Zacchaeus, 2015.

33rd SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOSTTone 8. St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople (389). Sunday of Zacchaeus.

If we watch the news on TV, or read the newspapers nowadays, we will see that one thing that politicians are saying to each other a lot is “Pay back the money.” They accuse each other of misusing money that was paid by the taxpayers, and then demand, loudly and publicly, “Pay back the money.”

What we don’t read about in the newspapers is that any of them did pay back the money.

Zacchaeus1In today’s Gospel, by contrast, we read about Zacchaeus, and he did pay back the money.

What is the difference between Zacchaeus and the politicians we read about in the newspapers?

The difference is that Zacchaeus saw Jesus, and when he saw Jesus, he promised to pay back the money.

Because he was short, Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see Jesus, and not only did he see Jesus, but Jesus also saw him.

And when Jesus saw Zacchaeus he did not say, “Pay back the money”. He said “I’m coming to have lunch with you today.”

And we are told that Zacchaeus received Jesus joyfully, and without being asked to do so, he promised to pay back the money.

But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

Zacchaeus3And when His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, went to visit President Jacob Zuma a couple of weeks ago, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

They complained on Facebook and they complained on Twitter, and perhaps they complained by e-mail and at tea parties, and even after the Divine Liturgy, after receiving Holy Communuion, because, as we all know, Jacob Zuma is one of those who has been asked to pay back the money.

Zacchaeus Sunday marks the beginning of the preparation for Great Lent, which is itself a preparation for Pascha, with the theme of repentance. We can say that the politicians should pay back the money. We can say that those who looted spaza shops in Soweto last week should pay back the money. But we really need to be looking at ourselves, and asking if we have paid back the money. And have we taken back the nasty things we have said about other people?

When Lent proper begins, on Forgiveness Sunday (22 February in 2015) we are given the opportunity to bow down to each other and ask each other for forgiveness. We can ask forgiveness of those we have wronged, and forgive those who have wronged us. During Great Lent we pray “grant that I may see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother.”

Most of the wars, and much of the violence in the world, is caused by people being more willing to condemn the sins of other people than to repent of their own.

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”



4 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 January 2015 2:26 pm

    Maybe the upsetting part was not so much the visit as the giving of the highest award the Patriarchate has to give?

  2. Katherine Hayes permalink
    26 January 2015 5:50 am

    the question there is – Who in the Diocese gave him advice to do so?

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