Better than you imagined
So [Zacchaeus] ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him …
- Luke 19:4-5a
What do you expect Jesus to say to Zacchaeus? What would the crowd have expected?
Zacchaeus sits in the tree. Maybe he’s hidden by the leaves and branches, but once Jesus points him out everyone will see him. Will the mysterious, wild, odd preacher confront the tax collecting sinner? He has a ready-made object lesson.
Imagine this: “You all know I’ve used the sycamore-fig tree to represent Israel in my preaching. And we live in a time when the tree just doesn’t seem to have the fruitfulness it should. Why do you think that is? Songbirds of sin perch in those branches and ruin the fruit. A day is coming when either those songbirds will have to be dealt with or the tree will perish. What will you choose?”
I bet the crowd would have like that, especially the “songbirds of sin” part. Maybe the pressure would have been credited with Zacchaeus’ repentance. And it would have fit a narrative about religion and God that people who are far from God so often carry: primarily concerned with righteousness, willing to use shame to manipulate, a little cruel. And, perhaps, if we’re honest, we carry a narrative like this ourselves from time to time.
What do you expect God to do when he sees you? Some of us expect God to ignore us. Others expect condemnation. Still others anticipate the onrush of shame. These keeps us on the run from God. And on the days when we’re running away, that’s the kind of god we’re fleeing.
But perhaps there’s also a part of us that hopes for a kinder God, that prompts us to climb trees, that takes risks because seeing God might be worth it. And it is.
Nothing could have prepared Zacchaeus for how Jesus responds to him. What if God has a surprise in store for you too? What if Jesus is actually kinder than you imagine?