This week, the Gospel tells the tale of two trees and the men who climb into them (Luke 19.1-10). The Two men? Zaccheus and Jesus. Both trees are instruments which bring salvation. The first is precursory and a foreshadowing of the second. The first tree and the events that surround it show who one man, who refuses to let Jesus pass by without seeing him and discovers that he is being sought by the one who seeks him.
The Zaccheus’ tree was planted decades before he needed it. But it was on the right street in Jericho – on the main road that the pilgrims used to make their way to Jerusalem. The road climbs a steep hill as it leaves the mostly abandoned part of the City. And along the way there is this forty foot sycamore tree with minimal stumpage and plenty of branches for a grown man to crawl into.
Zaccheus was a man who was ‘vertically challenged’, meaning he was short. People thought little of him because he was not only a tax collector and therefore a collaborator with the occupying Romans, he was often thought of as ‘irredeemable’ because he was a chief tax collector. To many, he was as corrupt as they come and too far gone for anyone to be able to reach. When Zaccheus heard that Jesus was coming and more than likely that he heard what happened with blind Bartimaeus getting his sight back, he made a plan and ran to his tree. He climbed for that one change to catch a glimpse of Jesus that he might know that God was revisiting and redeeming his people.
So the fact that Jesus would stop and ask to come to his house and to stay over was beyond anything that he could have imagined. It should not be lost that Jesus had no where to eat and nowhere to sleep that night. So hospitality was a must for Zaccheus – custom demanded nothing less. He gave his hospitality willingly and gladly. He got to walk with Jesus down the very same street that Jesus in morning would have to climb to continue on his way to Jerusalem and to his own tree as they walked to Zaccheus’ house.
Meanwhile, as they made their way to his house the religious people started grumbling to each other and asking if there was not someone better to hang out with for an evening because as it is , he has gone to be the guest of a public sinner. To show what the encounter with Jesus had done for him, Zaccheus openly declares that he commits to give half of what he has to the poor. Then he takes it a step further and says that anyone he has injured can come and lay claim as if he had stole sheep from them; repay them fourfold for the offense. These are not small amounts of money for Zaccheus was clearly a wealthy man. It makes clear that where there is repentance there is also joy and grace. Jesus himself points out in the Gospels that there is more rejoicing over one who repents than over 10 people coming into the kingdom who do not need to repent. Being willing to give and to offer of one’s won substance to the lives of other people is a sign of the fruit of repentance. Zaccheus took the time to stop and to stand still so that he could declare boldly for his neighbours to hear what God has done in his life – that he has been visited and been redeemed... and Jesus himself declares that Zaccheus is a son of Abraham. That is also why Jesus declares that salvation has come and entered into Zaccheus’ life and house – he is living the message!
I think we miss something important in North American Christianity. Faith is not a formula to be figured out and solved. It is a life that must be lived in faith to the fullest and to work out our salvation every day with fear and trembling. To do anything less, is to stay up in the tree instead of coming down and going home. Moreover, with Jesus’ tree, we can see not only how far God will come down to climb this tree and call us to come home, it shows us how far we have fallen and need to be redeemed through coming to repentance.
One of the things that the series of stories in this part of Luke’s Gospel wants to communicate is this: be careful of appearances because they are often deceiving. Just because someone thinks that they are “All that and a bag of chips” does not that they have it all together. I have know people who could fake it real well for a time. And it also means that one cannot judge someone to be impossible for God to rescue; to be beyond the reach of God’s tree and mercy. Blessed are those who know their need of salvation for they shall know the arms of God.
Is your heart, are you open to that same invitation? Will you come down out of your tree and come home that you might be rescued and transformed by God and for the sake of your community?