As I was pondering the story of Zacchaeus, I played around in my head with idiomatic phrases about trees. What came to mind are the following phrases: “barking up the wrong tree”; “money doesn’t grow on trees”; “a tree is known by its fruit”; “up a tree”; and “out on a limb” – do any of these phrases touch into your own stories of your relationship with trees?
I leaned back into my memory when I was a “wild child” of about eight years old. I had a fondness for climbing, especially trees. I would often climb telephone poles, rock formations, backyard swing sets, tree houses, swinging ropes, and all sorts of trees in my neighborhood. When my father got wind of my desire to climb objects, especially trees, he warned me not to do it in case I would fall. Was this warning heeded? Maybe my future was to be the pioneer that initiated artificial wall climbing, or a mountain guide as a companion of the Sherpa people! However, the warning was not heeded, as you could have guessed. One day I found myself at the very top of a neighbor’s cherry tree. It was not too sturdy for climbers like me. In fact, I was not able to make my way down with ease for I would break a few significant branches in my decent as well as possibly an arm or a leg. So I had to shout to the nearby neighbor and have him bring his ladder to dislodge me from the “twisted hands” of the branches that were holding me in place. Once I reached the ground, I asked my kind neighbor to not tell my father. No luck. How did I know that fathers had a secret code to snitch on the exploits of their children? But what I’m failing to tell you is that it was sheer joy that I felt when I reached the top of that tree. You could gain a whole new perspective of your environment, spy on your friends or bullies of the neighborhood, and it offered a vision that ground level would never provide.
So what does this have to do with Zacchaeus? My thoughts are these: that when there are murmuring mobs, critical crowds, or individuals who stand in our way of our potential, then maybe we have to be risk takers with curiosity and creativity so as to pursue a new perspective about ourselves and take up the challenge to “go out on a limb” seeking new possibilities. That is, maybe we have to take leave of the space and time that is our comfort zone and to be willing to know ourselves differently from what others assume, expect, or judge us to be.
As a chief tax collector for the Romans, we know that this position did not “gain points” for Zacchaeus. Being in this work made him eligible for the same snubbing, rejection, and ridicule as widows, children, and blind beggars. He was not liked by his fellow Jews for he was not about anyone’s potential, only his own. Having heard that Jesus was passing through he was determined to see him. Word must have traveled (without the aid of Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or Pinterest) and made him interested in Jesus. Being vertically challenged did not help him get a clear view of the itinerant preacher entering his city. So why not rise above the crowd and gain a new way of seeing this Jesus. However, it was Jesus that spied him first “up a tree” and truly “out on a limb.”
Everything about this story has a sense of urgency. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but he has the time to notice and be totally present to this little man with potential. This is how I believe that God truly sees us – in our potentialness! Jesus sees him as he is – and says, “Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” God doesn’t desire worthiness, only willingness and this is what Jesus experienced with Zacchaeus. Jesus peered into his heart and invited him to see himself as standing tall in his authentic self – his entire self was then open to trust and have faith in Jesus. Now Jesus has made himself an “outsider” once again since he entered the home of a tax collector – a “sinner.” However, he names Zacchaeus as a “son of Abraham” and gathers him up once again to being an “insider” in the Reign of God – known by name, seen with potential, and loved unconditionally.
I often wonder what Mrs. Zacchaeus thought when her husband brought home Jesus and his trusty friends for a meal. Also, there seems to be some hints of what Jesus’ future will be with his own encounter of critical crowds shouting “Crucify him” and his own experience of being “up a tree” for all to see his total and unconditional love for all humanity!
So let us ponder:
• May our curiosities implore us to seek out Jesus as Zacchaeus did.
• May any obstacles to our seeing be overcome with curiosity and creativity.
• May we ask for the grace to be willing to “go out on a limb” for God to know us at our deepest self.
• May we invite God within us so as to hear us being called by name again and again.
• May we always be willing to reach out for someone with a “ladder” to help us in our predicaments if we find ourselves stuck in the “branches” of criticism, doubt, and fear.
|Sycamore Tree in Jericho|