It was a hot day in Jericho. Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead as I grasped the first branch, attempting to swing my feet up in front of me. The leaves shook on the branches. After several attempts I finally I managed to pull myself up.
I looked into the leafy canopy above. I wanted to get up there, so I could see. My feet, secure as they could be in sandals, I grabbed the next branch and continued to climb. The yellow-orange bark cut at my soft hands.
The crowd moved as the man Jesus came down the street to this common gathering place. My blood surged through the veins in my head.
Why had I chosen to wear my best robe today? Of coarse it didn’t matter if I ruined it, I’d just have the tailor sew me a new one, but I did like the way the vertical stripes made me look taller.
The noise of the crowd grew louder as I climbed, up, up, up.
Ah, when I was but a boy I climbed trees. I was always shorter than most, even the girls. But when I climbed trees I felt like I could reach the sky.
Now my lungs heaved, reminding me of my age and the self indulgence of overeating that a man in my position could afford.
I used to be quite thin when I was young, climbing was easy. As I grew older, instead of climbing trees, I chose to climb the social ladder. Chief tax collector they called me. I was rich, but not everyone agreed with my methods. What was a little compromise here, a little fudging there had grown into full extortion. But Rome didn’t care why should I?
I grabbed a cluster of Sycamore leaves for leverage. Their heart-shaped leaves tore at my skin. As I pulled myself up higher a little bird fluttered in the branches above me, singing sweetly. It reminded me of my mother.
Honest as the day is long, my mother. Why, I remember one time she got home from market and realized the merchant returned her too much money so she walked all the way back. Supper was late that night, and it was thrown together, but somehow mother was so happy, happy as a songbird, Father had said, amid mother’s happy singing.
The little bird above me continued singing as I reached a vantage point. When I was a kid heights didn’t bother me. Now I had to admit I was dizzy. But there was Jesus and the crowd, heading to the spot directly below me.
Was it the news about Matthews’ retirement from “the profession” that so intrigued me? How could Matthew give it all up and follow as a common disciple?
I was feverish to know. The desire kept me awake at night. I was a man who got what I wanted. And Jesus was drawing near; he would soon be right beneath me.
I clung to branch overhead and tried to maneuver my plump body to another branch so I could see him better, but my sandal slipped. The little bird overhead flew away.
Jesus gazed up into the tree. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” He said to me.
We walked to my house, the crowd following. Their words still hung in the air, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’” I was a curiosity.
As I brought out a hastily prepared meal, the sweet notes of a songbird wafted in through my opened window, reminding me of a time long ago.
Suddenly I turned. As if reading my thoughts, Jesus returned my gaze. Here was the acceptance I had always longed for… and purpose too. Was what Matthew was talking about! I stood up, opening my money pouch. “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.”
As the crowd gathered in to receive their money I tasted the joy my mother must have known. A silly tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it away. This was a time for singing.
(From Luke 19)
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