This reflection is based on Luke 19:1-10.
He’s someone some people would–even in this endangered age of political correctness–call “vertically challenged.” There are, of course, every sort of psychological theory that claims how his type tends to over-compensate. But for Zacchaeus, it really was all just a job. Corruption and extortion were an occupational hazard; every other tax collector did it. And why not make the most of it since his own people loathed him anyway? Working for the Romans? Someone’s got to do it, he used to say to himself. Even if this isn’t really me. Even if I’m way more than this, he used to remind himself until even that voice eventually was never heard from again.
And then one day he heard that voice again. The crowds had been abuzz about this prophet from Nazareth, and rumors had it that he was coming to town. Something about the way he spoke, they said. Something about the way he looked into your eyes. You just felt it; he was something special.
And to top it all, they gestured to him derisively, he kept the company of the likes of you.
One afternoon, as he was counting change, he saw his townsfolk rushing to the east, shouting, “He’s here! Jesus of Nazareth is here!” Something about that name made his heart skip a beat. He quickly gathered his coins and followed the crowds.
Of course he couldn’t see a thing; everyone else in front of him was blocking the view. It was then that he spotted the tree by the road–a sycamore tree. Strategically located, it spread its limbs tall and wide, and provide the best vantage point for him. He used to be the fastest tree climber in the village, and maybe even if he hadn’t done it for years, he could still manage.
But he hesitated: What would people say if they saw him clambering up that sycamore tree? It would be the last straw to strip him of his any last remaining ounce of dignity. Was he willing to risk that? Did he really want to see this Jesus this much?
Some moments you just know, and that moment Zacchaeus did. Before he knew it, he was making his way to the perfect branch, abundant with leaves, where he settled comfortably hidden from view. That was the best part: In their excitement, the people hardly noticed him up on the tree.
But Zacchaeus had spoken too soon, so to speak. Before he knew it, to his horror, all eyes were fixed upon him. But more than any other pair of eyes, his eyes were upon him. And the rumors were true: There was something about him and his eyes and his voice. What was it that made this Jesus of Nazareth so special?
He thought he misunderstood, but the prophet had told him: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
It was the moment that changed his life forever. And it was the moment he knew. What made Jesus special was that an encounter with him made you realize that you were special.
If he hadn’t thrown all caution to the wind, if he hadn’t discarded his hesitation, if he hadn’t overcome his concern for what others would say, he would never have found his way up that sycamore tree. That sycamore tree really stood for his past and the self that he had reduced himself to. It was the tree he needed to climb and transcend. It was there among its leaves that he once again heard that long-lost inner voice and found the self in him that was truly valuable. If he had not climbed that tree, he would still be counting coins.
We’ve all got to find and climb our sycamore tree. What’s yours?