Zacchaeus Up a Tree

Title : Zacchaeus Up a Tree

Real men don’t climb trees, maybe with Tarzan as the one literary exception. At least not in the Middle East during Jesus’ lifetime. They didn’t flee either. Children, professional messengers, and soldiers were the only ones that ran. Adults who weren’t athletes or serving warriors didn’t run. They walked slowly, as befitted men of their stature and great dignity.

It is crucial to keep these facets of Middle Eastern culture in mind when we read the Zacchaeus tale in the Gospel of Saint Luke. When he learned last-minute that Jesus was going through his town of Jericho, he was desperate to see Him. Being a short, little guy, Zacchaeus was unable to see over the large crowd that was encircling Him. Ordinarily wealthy and influential individuals in Middle Eastern crowds would make way for them, but Zacchaeus understood there was little prospect of that happening.

He couldn’t expect anyone in the faceless mass to move aside for him, and it would be perilous to do so. Zacchaeus, like other those who were detested, steered clear of crowds because anyone brandishing a knife would have too much access to his back.

But his eagerness to meet Jesus was so strong that he did something that no respectable adult of his stature would ever do: “He ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him” (Luke 19:4). He took off running and climbed into a tree. He put himself at risk of mockery by doing so, which was unacceptable in a society where public dignity was valued highly. I believe it still cost him something to run and climb, even if he may have thought he had nothing to lose because he was already so despised. The final frayed threads of his pride were left at the base of the sycamore as he ascended it.

Then the unimaginable occurred. Not only did Zacchaeus see Christ, but the Lord also paused beneath the tree and raised an eyebrow at him. I assume that for a little while before Jesus started speaking, Zacchaeus’ heart was in his mouth. How would He respond?

Zacchaeus had been defrauding and abusing the extremely poor for years, and Jesus was well known for standing up for them. “You poor people are blessed because the Kingdom of God is yours! Woe to you, affluent people, for you have fully received your consolation! Woe to you who are currently full, because you will soon be hungry! You who are laughing right now will soon sorrow and cry. (Luke 6:20, 24-25) What if He spoke to him? His guilty conscience got ready for a severe reprimand. But the well-deserved reprimand never materialised. It was much more stunning what Jesus really said: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5).

To enter Zacchaeus’ society, we must once more briefly abandon our own. Jesus used his name to address him, showing his sensitivity and love. And as a gesture of acceptance, He requested hospitality.

When the multitude noticed it, according to Luke’s normal understatement, “they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner'” (Luke 19:7). Such is the character of God’s love: it offends morality and justice and impels everyone to turn from their sins, including greedy, oppressive scum like Zacchaeus.

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