Climbing Down the Tree

Series Intro.

This week we hear another story about a tax collector. Luke loves these! Zacchaeus is not just any tax collector, though. He is a short, powerful, tree-climbing tax collector.

Many times I’ve heard Zach’s story told with emphasis on his excitement and desire to see Jesus. Jesus loves that Zach ran up that tree to see him! Zach’s motives for running up the tree, however, are questionable. It is coming down from the tree that changes his life.

Sycamore at Ashkelon, by Ferrell Jenkins

Although short, Zach was used to having a leg up on everyone in this crowd. He was much richer than them, and he got that way by abusing a position of power. When Zach heard that Jesus, a famous and powerful man, was coming through town, he wanted to meet him. Zach didn’t just want to meet Jesus. He DESERVED to meet him. He would not be stopped by these poor people. He had the upper hand when he came knocking for their taxes, and he would get the upper hand here. He spots his opportunity in the sycamore tree and runs ahead, shoving a few people out of the way to get up and get the first glimpse of Jesus. Up here is where he belongs, anyway, not down on the ground with the 99%.

When Jesus gets close to the tree, however, Zach finds that he’s got a great view, but climbing up the sycamore has actually distanced him from the man he wanted to meet. Surprisingly to the crowd (and readers of the Bible), Jesus does not rebuke Zach’s riches or the means by which he got them, but invites himself to Zach’s home for supper and a bed for the night.

Zach is as surprised as the crowd because the supposedly powerful Jesus looks just like the crowd of poor people. His clothing tattered from much walking, looks like he hasn’t bathed in some time, and quite famished. Still, Zach is excited by Jesus’ invitation and scrambles down the tree, much to the crowd’s dismay.

But Zach doesn’t just come down the tree, he brings himself down several pegs on the social ladder. He reports to Jesus, in front of everyone, that he will give half his resources to the poor, and the rest he will use to repay anyone he has cheated, four times what he took!

This is the good news of the story. “Salvation has come to this household!” Jesus exclaims. The coming down from the tree, and coming down from his social stature, is what changed Zach’s life. Zach is no longer up a tree, on his own. He’s on the same level as the crowd, which also happens to be where Jesus is. After Zach’s public conversion, imagine how many people from this crowd will follow Zach and Jesus home for supper! Zach’s coming down is his joining the church – the community of people who are following Jesus and sharing meals and all of life together.

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