He Climbed a Tree
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Pastor Mark Aune
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
I wasn’t going to do this to you today but we almost have to.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.
Now that I’ve got the worm tune thing going in your head I want you to think about this bible song for just a minute. It is kind of mean. Would you want to be called a wee little man? I realize it is a children’s song but really, a wee little man.
Luke attaches some labels to him as well; chief tax collector, rich. Oh and he is short in stature as well.
The labels are intentional. They get our attention and as soon as we hear them we all pretty much think to ourselves, I’m not like Zacchaeus at all.
But hold on. Maybe you are. Perhaps you are more like Zacchaeus than you think you are. Luke says one more thing about him that is easy to pass over and it is an important descriptor of Zacchaeus.
He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.
What is it that stirs in the heart of a person and causes him or her to want to see who Jesus is? Something was going on with Zacchaeus.
Word about this man must have made its way to Jericho because when Jesus entered the city the crowds came out to see him and Zacchaeus wanted to see him as well.
Was Zacchaeus lonely? Was he disappointed with himself and with his life?
Part of me wonders if he was tired of being singled out by the labels he wore out in public, by the judgement he felt from the people in his community. Was anyone ever glad to see him?
Whatever his need, and Luke doesn’t tell us, he was determined to see Jesus. So he climbs up a sycamore tree.
I was curious, how climbable is a sycamore tree? I don’t think I’ve ever climbed one. And I’ve climbed a lot of trees. So I looked up a picture of a sycamore tree and it is a very climbable tree.
It has large low branches that one could easily reach and it would be a perfect tree to sit a watch someone come by. The tree is an important part of the Zacchaeus story and it gets me thinking about the trees I’ve climbed in order to see Jesus is in my life. The things and the people who have served as a sort of tree that assisted me in getting a good view of Jesus.
Have you climbed trees like that? Trees with large, low branches that are easy to reach and give a good view. Trees that have helped you get a good view of Jesus.
If you are anything like Zacchaeus then there is something inside of you that is drawing you to Jesus and you know you need to see him – you know something is amiss in your life – you know there is an empty place.
It might be small or it might be large. And no matter what you do to fill that space, no matter how hard you try – it is still empty.
Do what Zacchaeus did. Climb the tree – look at Jesus.
Get a clear, unobstructed look at him and let him see you as well. He will see you up in that tree and he will look you in the eyes and he will call you by name and he will invite himself into your home.
This is the beautiful part of the Zacchaeus story. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
Hurry and come down.
Do you hear the urgency in the voice of Jesus?
Do you hear the desire he has for Zacchaeus and for you and for me?
I must stay in your house today. Today!
So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome him. Of all the people in town, Jesus sees Zacchaeus. And Zacchaeus welcomes him into his home with open arms and an open heart. And he is transformed because Jesus entered into his home and into his life.
Your heart is your home – this is the place where the empty feeling resides and Jesus wants to occupy that space.
He wants to come into your home and dine with you and be with you and fill you with a peace that nothing else can give you. Zacchaeus is transformed when he welcomes Jesus into his home. He is a changed person.
Up to this point it is a feel good story. And then the crowd gets involved. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”
There’s always a crowd isn’t there. There’s always someone sitting in judgment and let us be very clear here. The crowd is judging Jesus as well as Zacchaeus.
Why do we do this kind of thing? Why is the crowd always so full of judgment?
Is it because they feel like they are more deserving of Jesus’ attention?
Is it because of their strong dislike of Zacchaeus and what they feel is his betrayal of them since he is working for the Romans and because of that he is no longer one of them?
Or is it just easier to heap scorn on someone else when we are unwilling or unable to see and acknowledge that empty space in our own lives?
I received an interesting email from a young adult who was reflecting on this story. It made me think about the crowd. This is a portion of that email.
“How we can read the text, not interpreting Zacchaeus’ being called a sinner and tax collector representing our own shortcomings (pun partially intended), but rather how the crowd kept him from Jesus.
That’s been a huge part of my faith journey, and I’m not even really talking about myself. Just from growing up in the church and seeing the people I knew and grew up with acting as gatekeepers instead of having an inviting and giving spirit. Some examples that I’ve seen was a teenage girl who got pregnant or a man struggling with addiction being told that he couldn’t come to church anymore. Just generally watching the church hurt people for a variety of reasons.”
I don’t want to be part of that crowd and I don’t want the church to be that crowd. And in order for that to happen I have to recognize that I am short in stature, that I am a sinner and a tax collector. But it also means I need to keep climbing trees so that I never lose sight of Jesus.
And when he calls me to come down, I will come down willingly, with joy and I will welcome him into my home. I will welcome him once again and I will remember why he came for you and for me.
“Today salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Thanks be to God. Amen