"Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:8-9 (KJV)
1 Peter 1:8-9 (KJV)
Zacchaeus, the Story of Promise and Leadership
Luke 19:1-10 (KJV)
19 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
When we observe a story like that of Zacchaeus, we often think about how a small man longed to see Jesus and what he was about. What is rarely discussed is the part about the actual tree. How did it get there? Why was it there? Was the help it gave that day its ultimate purpose? Another specific question comes to my mind. The question of, what does this tree represent and what does it mean for us today?
Zacchaeus may have been a man of short stature, but he was surely not a tiny part of his community. The text tells us that he was “chief among the publicans,” so he wasn’t just any tax collector, but rather the chief tax collector. He was the equivalent of our commissioner of the IRS today here in America. Zacchaeus had managed to essentially climb the government ladder despite his short stature, so he was surely used to climbing in the first place.
Due to the fact that Zacchaeus was short, he had to find a way to see Jesus and examine Him. He had to see the man that everyone talked so much about and loved. Zacchaeus found the sycamore tree, climbed it, and accomplished just what he set out to do. Not only did he accomplish his goal, but Jesus spotted him in the tree amongst the crowd and demanded He stay at Zacchaeus’ house. That was quite a rapid progression of events within a short period of time and seemingly pretty aggressive on Jesus’ part.
We hear no more about the tree for the rest of the text and very little about Zacchaeus. While most tend to focus more on the story of Zacchaeus and how Christ offered him salvation because of his faith, I like to dive into the details of biblical accounts and find the not so visible gems within the text. We know that the “sycamore tree” as the text tells us that it, is a native tree species to Jericho. It is still used for cultivation for its figs and other uses, growing up to 20 meters tall. This tree would have surely been large enough for Zacchaeus to achieve his goal.
What is striking about this whole situation is that long before Zacchaeus would have been chief tax collector and most likely before he was ever born, God knew that having this tree at the right place, at the right time, and at the right height would be necessary for Zacchaeus to receive his salvation. There in the midst of the story God is sending us a message about His promises to provide for us. As He provides for the sparrow (Matthew 6:26), He promises to provide for us. Even when it requires planning ahead years before we were in our mother’s womb, God knows our every need.
If that weren’t enough that God’s promise is represented here for providing our every need, there is a message tucked well within the text of this story. That is, the story of the tree itself and how it relates to Zacchaeus. See, Zacchaeus was a powerful man who had achieved a high level of rank, but his methods of obtaining this level were most likely corrupt and modeled according to the world’s idea of promotion. He was a man of power in the Kingdom of Rome, but not the Kingdom of God. The striking contrast in the biblical leadership model of God and that of the world can be found in the tree.
Like the speed at which it is often obtained, worldly given leadership is often very unstable. One minute you can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the next you can find yourself in the unemployment line. However, when we follow God’s plans for promotion, the path is often hard and long. This type of leadership doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience and enduring. Much like the requirement for this type of tree needing the assistance of a certain type of wasp to be a host for its seeds to travel, this type of leadership also requires the assistance of some God given discipleship to take us places we have never been before. It is only after a long process of hosting, planting, watering, and growth that this tree is able to produce and serve its purpose. Like that tree, we must continually mature in our faith and leadership daily.
The last and final hidden message that I wish to acknowledge is that of humility. Going with the ironies found within this story, I find it also ironic the small stature of Zacchaeus himself compared to that of his standing or stature in the community. In order to see Zacchaeus had to climb up in a tree, placing himself physically over the crowd. In a total story of irony, Jesus notices his placement both physically and socially, calling him out. Jesus did not shy away from Zacchaeus even though He already knew of his background. Instead of being afraid of a man with such political stature, Jesus reached up to Zacchaeus right where he was above the crowd and called him down. Even when our pride and sin has fooled our minds into thinking we are high above the reasoning of God, Christ often reaches out to us in our high places. Knowing Him, places our feet back on the ground of truth and provides us that solid foundation where we can’t be knocked down from our high places built on pride. Zacchaeus may have climbed the tree that day a leader of the world’s men and having the foundation of sin, but he descended from that tree on a path to a position of leadership in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven and having set his foundation on the solid rock of Jesus Christ!