Good authors know how to make us see a character. It may be something unusual about their appearance, or better still, an action that opens a window to what drives them through life. Lady McBeth is shown trying to wash blood off of her hands. Zacchaeus is short, and we see him climbing a tree. I imagine something furtive about his hiding among the leaves. He positions himself where he can see Jesus and expects his neighbors not to notice that he is literally up a tree.
Being short – as in having less money than you need at the moment – and being up a tree, are expressions we use for those awkward or dangerous moments when our own stupidity is about to be rewarded. What about you? Are there personal potholes that you constantly fall into? Traits that work against your desire to be on top of life. Have any of your recent decisions put you up a tree?
There is another way to think about this sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbs. There are two places to stand regarding a new teacher or prophet like Jesus, crowding forward or holding back. One can stand with the peasants and the people who need something; they have nothing to lose when Jesus comes to town and so we see them pressing around him. By way of contrast, the rich and well positioned men, hang back and adopt a wait and see attitude towards Jesus. Then there is Zacchaeus. He climbs a tree. Of course, neither the crowd nor the elite would want him to stand with them. One would think he’d stay home. Instead he risks ridicule and shame. He puts himself in the perfect position for a one on one encounter with a new life. Many gospel stories tell how those who need Jesus find him. The other theme throughout this section of Luke is reversal. Often those who are shortest and most up a tree get rewarded and brought to the front of the line.
What about you? Does the story of Zacchaeus give you hope?