When we are kids, we color pictures of a guy sitting up in the branches of a tree. But when we get older, we know that the really important part of the story comes at the end. When this very wealthy tax collector declares to Jesus, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.”
Giving to the poor is an important part of following Jesus. And without diminishing this point about holding our worldly possessions lightly, I would like to re-visit the childhood fascination with the short little businessman perched in a tree. So back up with me, if you would, to verse three: “He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not.”
All those years of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, all I ever got was that Zachhaeus wanted to see Jesus. Like the tourists want to see a movie star in Hollywood. Like my kids wanted to see Donald Duck at Disney World.
But the text doesn’t say he wanted to see Jesus. It says he wanted to see who Jesus was. This wealthy tax collector has questions about Jesus. Who is this guy? What does he look like? What does he sound like? What is it about the way that he looks at people, touches them, that stirs up all of this energy, this excitement?
Zachhaeus knew that the crowd was in the way, obscuring his view. So he climbed up a tree. Zachhaeus doesn’t care how ridiculous he looks or if he might rip his new toga. He wants to see who Jesus is. I am struck by this image of climbing the tree. Of putting ourselves in a place of perspective.
And I’m thinking about what our sycamore trees might be. Because I have to say that the crowds are pretty distracting right now. It would be nice to find a place of perspective, a place where it is possible to see who Jesus is in the midst of the chaos.
Worship is a sycamore tree for me. And morning prayer, when I manage it. And reading thoughtful, spiritual books. And listening to others. Those are all ways I can put myself in a better position to see who Jesus is. Those are some of the trees I need to climb.
What are yours? Where are the places of perspective to which you need to go?
I know there is more to following Jesus than climbing the tree. More than simply putting ourselves in a place of perspective. This following Jesus business is hard. And complicated. Still, I trust this story of Zacchaeus.
If we have the desire to see who Jesus is, if we have faith and courage and disregard for the crowds enough to climb the tree, Jesus will show up. He will look us in the eye. He will call our name. And our lives will never be the same again.
This post is excerpted from a sermon I wrote in 2009 and focuses on Luke 19:1-10.