Willing to Climb a Tree?
News on the street was that the teacher so many had been talking about was coming through town. Word of his arrival spread fast. In fact, before he had even made it mid-way through town, crowds were lining the narrow streets to get a glimpse. The streets were packed when Zacchaeus heard the news and had time to secure his tax collectors' booth. Try as he might Zacchaeus, who was vertically challenged, could not get a good view of the roadway. He tried to push his way through, but let's be honest, most in this crowd were not interested in helping the greedy little tax collector out. Some were very deliberate in their attempt to block Zacchaeus from getting any front-row seat.
Having exhausted all of his charm, which for Zacchaeus did not take long, trying to get to the front he had to come up with a new plan. His next plan was to run ahead. So as fast as his little feet would carry him, he ran toward the far side of town, trying to get ahead of the growing crowd. But this, too, proved to be a futile effort. On to plan C, “I need to get over the crowd” thought the “wee” little man. But there was not a shopkeeper in this part of town that would go out of their way to help him access the roof or upper balcony of their shops. So taking matters into his own hands, he found a sycamore tree and climbed up to some of the higher branches.
Let me tell you, this was quite a sight. Zacchaeus hiking up his robes and scampering up into a tree. Zacchaeus didn’t care about the laughter and the pointing, he was used to the mocking of the people and didn’t care. He didn’t care when he found a comfortable branch on which he had a great and comfortable view of the below roadway.
What happened next almost caused Zacchaeus to fall out of his little viewing stand. The crowd began to come to life beneath him, and Jesus came into view just down the road. You could hear the noise of the crowd build and build until it reached a full crescendo as Jesus and his band of merry men were right in front of Zacchaeus. Then it happened, Jesus stopped his slow progression through the city and turned not to the crown at Zacchaeus' feet, but Jesus turned and looked up at Zacchaeus. As if this was not enough, the crowd all around him, even those who had not witnessed the great climb, were pointing and laughing. The crowd was waiting to hear with this great teacher and rabbi would say to their local cheat of a tax collector. No one, not even Zacchaeus, was prepared for Jesus' words, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Luke, who made this story famous, was kind to Zacchaeus when he wrote, “So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” I think, truth be told, the little man came down in what was part climbing, part falling as he stood in cold amazement before Jesus. The crowd grew cold and ugly as they witnessed this unbelievable exchange between Jesus and Zacchaeus. For all their muttering, and grumbling about Jesus going into the home of a sinner, the end of the story is my favorite.
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:9-10 (NIV)
What a climb, what a risk, what an encounter.
While this story is great fun with a flannel graph, it is, for me, a very convicting story. It reminds me how so very often I am not willing to climb a tree. So many days, my list of simple and meaningless excuses keeps me from getting a clear view of Jesus. It seems as if I let people sometimes work hard to block my view of Jesus. All this does for me is keep me from a daily life-changing encounter with a God who says, “I must stay at your home today.” He longs for time with me. If I ask him, he will move the crowd away from me so we can have some private time just the two of us.
I pray that I am willing to climb a tree today and tomorrow! See you in the branches!