Lessons from a Tree

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd…” Luke 19:1-10


I didn’t go to church much as a kid, but when I did, I was all about the flannelgraphs. Some kids liked the stories of  “Jonah and the Whale,” or were the “Loaves and Fishes” types, but I was a Zacchaeus man. Maybe it’s the tree climbing, but I have always loved the story of this diminutive rich guy climbing a tree to see Jesus:

“[B]ut because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.”

Although I can still picture the silly flannel man pressed over a tree, my appreciation for this story has evolved. Zacchaeus was less silly old flannel man and much more local crime boss with a crew that helped him collect taxes for the occupying Roman army. To win the job of tax collector you had to demonstrate you could collect the most money (and to be successful it had to be enough to pay the taxes and make yourself wealthy). It’s not a stretch to imagine Zacchaeus would be despised by most of those in the crowd following Jesus.

There was something about Jesus, however. Something about this itinerant, blue-collar, miracle-working teacher, that made Zacchaeus want to catch just a glimpse of him. Can you remember the last time Jesus captured your imagination so much that you simply wanted to catch a glimpse of him? When is the last time, like Zacchaeus, you were intentional about finding a time and place to do that?

It’s hard to say what Zacchaeus expected when Jesus walked by, but it probably wasn’t this:

“When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’”


“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”


It would have been easy for Jesus to keep going – too busy, too many other demands, too much risk to his reputation…can you imagine the disciples’ reaction? “Uh, Jesus, we shouldn’t even be talking to this guy!” And Jesus responds, “It’s about to get worse – we’re going to his house for dinner.” Jesus shocks everybody watching, but nobody more so than Zacchaeus.

Jesus does go and eat with Zacchaeus and at the end of the evening Zacchaeus stands up and declares something remarkable:

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Moved by Zacchaeus’ commitment, Jesus responds:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Salvation. Restoration. There’s a healing of relationships both between God and Zacchaeus, but also between Zacchaeus and his community. It’s an incredible turn of events. What was it that Jesus said to Zacchaeus? What teaching or insight did they discuss over their meal? It must have been powerful! If I were recording this event, I would have focused on this. We, however, don’t know anything of that conversation – it’s simply not in the text. We witness the incredible response of Zacchaeus but not the words exchanged just before.

What can we learn here? I see two things that Zacchaeus discovers about the character of God, things Jesus wants us to know as well. The first is that God sees us and knows us – that God is more interested in our lives than we realize!

Jesus sees Zacchaeus and calls him by name. He sees us, he knows us – he knows our joys and our sorrows. He knows our successes and our failures. Jesus is incredibly interested in each of our lives!

The second thing we learn comes in Jesus’ response, a response that’s way beyond what he expected. Zacchaeus just wants to see him. In the end though, he learns that Jesus is even better than he thought. Through Zacchaeus’ change at the end of the story, we see that God is even better, even more amazing, than imagined.

God sees you. He knows your life and what’s happening. He sees what’s going on at home, work, or school, and it all matters to him more than you realize. Do you believe that? Do you believe that he sees you and knows you and is even better than you realize? Zacchaeus shows us that these two truths are a part of Jesus’ character – both then for him, and for you today.

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