Zacchaeus and the Sycamore tree

When I was very young the story of Zacchaeus fascinated me. In school we sang a song about him. It went something like this;

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
a wee little man was he.
He climbed up a sycamore tree
for the lord he wanted to see.
And as the savior passed that way
he looked up in the tree.
And he said:
Zacchaeus, you come down for I am going to your house today.

That last line might not be correct but that was the general idea.
The images of this wee little man that was too short to see over the crowds, so he climbed up a sycamore tree, were just so vivid to my imagination. We had a few huge Sycamore trees not far from our house and I could not think of a more perfect tree to climb to look down on someone. They had lots of leaves, their bark was crusty making them great for climbing and their branches were huge. We would sit up in them for hours, all the time, in the back of my mind were images of Zacchaeus waiting up there for Jesus to pass underneath.

The story of the gospel is simple, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. As a matter of fact, he was the chief tax collector for Jericho. He must have been a very important man. Some one that was looked up to, even if he was a wee little man.

Obviously, a man in his position could not be seen in the company of Jesus any more than Jesus could be seen in the company of Zacchaeus, or so the elders said. So, the logical solution was to climb up a tree and hide from everyone, including Jesus. Here Zacchaeus was the perfect modern-day Christian. He wanted to see Jesus, wanted to know what all the buzz was about, but didn’t want Jesus, or anyone else for that matter, to see him seeing Jesus. Sort of the old Pat & Mike joke about the two of them doing some road work on a street right in front of a pub. As the two of them were working, in the middle of the day, they looked up to see one of the local Protestant minister sneaking into the pub. One says to the other, “isn’t it just like those hypocrites to say one thing on Sunday and visit the pub in the middle of the day on Tuesday”? Ten minutes later they looked up to see the other local minister also sneaking into the pub and once again one said to the other, “Hypocrites, hypocrites I tell you the whole lot of them. They preach one thing and do another”. And after another 10 minutes passed, they looked up to see their local catholic deacon sneaking into the pub and one says to the other, “Lord bless us all, there must be someone awful sick in there for the good deacon to be making a house call this time of the day.”

The exact opposite was said when Jesus later went into the tax collectors house for dinner, “When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” Like I said before, these gospel messages are simple and well laid out. That Jesus will always come to us no matter where in this case Zacchaeus’s house. And that Zacchaeus responded by giving half of his possessions to the poor. But what about the other story? The one where he was sitting hiding in the tree.

Earlier, I typified Zacchaeus as the model Christian hiding in the tree. He wanted to see Jesus, witness all his wonderful miracles, maybe even get to hear him preach but he didn’t want to get too close. He didn’t want to be seen out of fear that Jesus might want him to come down and do something. Sort of like the quote that has been paraphrased from St. Agustin, “Please God, make me good, but not just yet”.

Look what happens when Jesus sees him. He makes him come down, makes him make room for him to have dinner, stay in his house and give away half his wealth. No wonder he was hiding in a tree.
The message for all of us is to come down from the tree. Christianity is not a spectator sport. To each one of us Jesus is calling “come down for I am going to your house today”, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost”.

Lk 19: 1-10

At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

November 16, 2021

November 16, 2021

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