So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. Luke 19:4
You can find the story in of Zacchaeus Luke 19:1-10 Who would think the Bible would include the childhood pastime of climbing trees? This is why I love God’s Word. It is honest, real, and touches places in our hearts we have forgotten or sealed off. It is a sword, a surgical knife: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.: (Hebrews 4:12)
Here is the story of a short guy who desperately wanted to see Jesus so much he let decorum and social norms go flying out of the window. He did whatever he needed to do to get the answer to his questions. I wonder if he realized he let his inner child come out? Did he understand this is where he had to be to “see Jesus?” The Word tells us we must have the faith of a child (Matthew 18:2-4). What are the characteristics of a child? What traits did this short fellow exhibit? It is worth the time to dig in and see. We just might let some of our own inhibitions finally go when we see Jesus loved this!
Our short friend is Zacchaeus whose name means pure, innocent. We learned songs about him in Sunday School as children. Do you remember the words? “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see….”
Zacchaeus was a wee little man.
Zacchaeus was a Jew but he was also a “publican” or tax collector for Rome which was tantamount to treason in the eyes of the Jews. He was very wealthy because tax collectors charged extra for their own income in addition to the taxes Rome levied. He is described as a “chief” and this is indicative of his position of the “bullies on the playground.” So not only was he a tax collector he was a leader among this group and loyal to Rome. This made him “small” in the eyes of his own people. It is easy as a small person to feel overlooked. The Word tells us he was short in stature and I know first hand the challenges of being less than 5’2” can cause. Stairs are steep. Pants are too long. Crowds are difficult to navigate and getting lost in a crowd is easy! If you want to see, you need to be sitting in the front. And if you really want to see something, you have to arrive early to get a front row seat. However, when you feel small and “less than” you often want to hide in the back or in the balcony. This is Zaccheus dilemma. He is curious about this Jesus. Jesus is drawing a crowd and Zacchaeus wants to get a good look. Obviously, Zacchaeus is athletic for he runs ahead and climbs a tree to get a “bird’s eye view.” Since he is short, he probably had to do a bit of jumping to grab a limb and then do the equivalent of some gymnastics to get up into the tree. A sycamore tree is known for its wide spreading limbs so Zacchaeus had to monkey walk out on the limb to get over the road. Are you getting a mental picture?
Like a child, the focus on what Zacchaeus wants and his curiosity outweighs his “less than” feelings or sense of safety. He is determined to at least get a glimpse of this one they call Jesus who has been doing some amazing things and some are saying He is the Messiah. As a Jew, he wants to know!
His desperate measure is rewarded by the Savior. Jesus comes by and stops! He makes eye contact with Zacchaeus. He calls him by name (they have never met before–at least not on earth!) and says “come down for I want to go stay at your house tonight.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
Now we discover, Zacchaeus is happy, hospitable, and gracious! He could care less at this point what is being said! Someone WANTS to spend time with him! Remember, he is a Jewish outcast. To be seen in the company of Zacchaeus would be like being seen with a leper.
Can you see in your holy imagination Zacchaeus jumping down off his perch and racing like a sprinter home to make preparations for his first ever dinner party? He doesn’t give a rip what people are saying about him and he is thankful Jesus doesn’t care what they are saying about His choice of companions.
Climbing a tree was the best thing this man ever did! He did what Logan Wolfram wrote in her book, Curious Faith: Rediscovering a Good God with Childlike Wonder, he “exchanged control for curiosity.” And Froebel wrote in Education of Man, 1826, “To climb a tree is for a child to discover a new world.” Zacchaeus found a new life! Just the Presence of Jesus in his home was conviction enough and Zacchaeus repented of his sin and put his new found FAITH into action by his statement: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore to him fourfold.” This statement proves he knew Jewish law! (Exodus 22:1) and is proof of his salvation for faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)
Zacchaeus is sometimes contrasted with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) who could not part with his wealth in order to follow Jesus. Zacchaeus proves Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
A little man with the heart of a child, saw the Savior and was forever changed. All because he climbed a tree. Do you have faith like a child? I need to remember this when I am tempted to be “grown up” and follow Southern social expectations when Jesus is asking me to reach out to another. Desperate times call for desperate measures!
Time to go climb a tree! Time to be a kid. I want to see Jesus!!!! Do you?
Faith Like A Child by Jars of Clay
Treading like a kid,