Zacchaeus:  A Little Man Up a Tree

Zacchaeus: A Little Man Up a Tree

We've heard the very familiar and somewhat humorous, gospel story of Zacchaeus, -- a little man up a tree, hoping for a passing view of Jesus, a growing "superstar" from Galilee.  The last time I heard the story, I remembered thinking, Jesus hadn't planned this stop.  Luke tells us "Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town."  In other words, Jesus had a destination in mind - the travel plans were made, and Jericho was not on the tour agenda.

But in the next verse, we are introduced to Zacchaeus, a “chief” tax collector, and a wealthy man besides.  Then we learn that Zacchaeus is short in stature, vertically challenged, squatty, just a “little guy”.  OR, maybe that shortness was more a commentary on him as a person, as in “We think very “little” of Zacchaeus.”

Like many of us, I suspect Zacchaeus had been up a tree, out on a limb, sawed off, and stumped many times in his life.   But in the eyes of the world, Zacchaeus had made it big!  He was wealthy – even if, at the expense of others.  He was not just a tax-collector, he was chief tax collector. But for all his wealth, there was something missing, something else he longed for, …or he wouldn’t have been up a tree that day.  

So, what was it about this “little man” that caused Jesus to change his travel plans?  What compelled him to STOP, to call Zacchaeus by name, and to invite himself to the home of yet another sinner?

Maybe Jesus saw the hurt of someone who had shut down his heart because of the cruel remarks about his stature.  Maybe Jesus saw a man who had tried all his life to measure up, to stand tall and be respected like others, but who never quite felt appreciated, accepted, or good enough for the rest of Jericho.  Maybe Jesus simply saw a lost soul needing compassion. Or maybe it was just the humor of seeing this publican clinging like a bird on a tree branch.

Whatever initiated his glance, Jesus looked up at a little man perched in a tree, and he saw past the externals and he invited himself into the home – into the heart of Zacchaeus.

When Jesus told Zacchaeus “Come down quickly, for I must stay at your house”, there may have been some swaying on the branch, as Zacchaeus “quickly”, we’re told descended from the tree and welcomed Jesus with joy.      

What went through the mind of this man, who had literally, gone out on a limb just to get a glimpse of a wandering Galilean preacher.  What brought Zacchaeus down from the tree in such haste?

I believe Zacchaeus saw and felt the compassion in Jesus. He knew that Jesus LOVED HIM, he knew Jesus wanted to be HIS FRIEND, and he knew Jesus didn’t care nearly as much about how tall he was, as he did about the size of his heart.

As he walked Jesus to his home, I suspect Zacchaeus was thinking, “ Wow! I’m sure glad I took a chance and climbed that tree today.”                                                   

In "short", Zacchaeus opened his heart to Jesus that day, and branched out to share himself with others.          

The moral of the story:  We all come up a bit short in life.  But Jesus is ever present, -- inviting, and waiting to be invited, to come and stay in our home, our heart.

Our YES to Jesus, gives us the courage of Zacchaeus to give away all we own, to abandon earthly goods for the sake of the kingdom, -- and like Eleazar in our first reading to have the courage to spit out the unclean things of this world - even when it means possible death. Indeed with God at our side, we can do all things!!

We all have trees along the path of life. And we all have the grace of God to help us to decide:

Is it time for me to climb up this tree?  Or,

Is it time for me to courageously climb down and move on?       

What Sycamore trees are part of your life today?

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