Thursday, June 12, 2014


Sycamore Branches, Internet Domain

I’ll bet most of us growing up in church remember singing the children’s song about a wee little man named Zacchaeus who climbed up a sycamore tree “for the Lord he wanted to see”. It’s a happy little ditty reminiscent of the megahit Happy by Pharrell Williams these days. It even ends with the refrain “for he had seen the Lord that day, and a very happy man was he”. But there’s much more going on in the story of the despised wealthy Jewish man who collected taxes for the conquering Roman government.

James Martin in his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, introduces Zach when Martin arrives in Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, dating back ten thousand years. He photographs a sycamore tree enclosed by a circular iron fence in the middle of a busy traffic circle. Experts confirm it could be two thousand years old and is called “the Zacchaeus tree”. Martin writes “in Jerico, en route to his crucifixion, he will meet two men. One is poor and one is rich; both seek a kind of healing from Jesus”. The poor Bartimaeus is sitting by the side of the road begging. He doesn’t cry out for money but asks the Son of David to have mercy on him. Although he is blind, he “sees” who is approaching him and his confident faith makes him well as his sight is restored.

Perhaps Zach has heard of this miracle as Jesus continues on “the way”. He clambers up a Sycamore Fig tree to seek a different kind of healing. Earlier in his three year ministry, Jesus taught that we should all be cautious of where we spend our time, treasure and talents, for there will be our heart also. To his surprise, Jesus demonstrates his practice of “table fellowship” and publicly offers to dine with the sinner. Zach responds by announcing that he will give half of his possessions to feed the poor.

Martin observes that “Jesus invites people to be free of anything that keeps them from God…Zacchaeus was free as soon as he climbed the tree and is filled with joy”. And a very happy man was he.

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