I haven’t climbed a tree in years.
His heart was beating fast now, though he didn’t really understand why. But he had a growing sense that things in his life were coming to a head. A culmination. Something was getting ready to happen.
The branches are low enough. I could do it, you know. I could…
Never before had he been so upset to be short, and he had been upset about it plenty. There were the calls and nicknames from the boys when he was growing up, but then he had showed them hadn’t he? He was the one who had the important job now. He was the one they had to be nice to because he was, in large part, in control of their livelihood. He had proven his importance and put his thumb of authority down on top of those same people who had made up those silly songs about his height. He had more money, more power, and more prestige than any of them had. But now, there was this whole issue of height. He simply couldn’t see, but he wanted to. He wanted it more than anything he had wanted in a long time.
It’s the only way, right? If I want to see, I’ve got to climb. I can’t push through this crowd.
His feet were twitching now. He was moving back and forth, a kind of nervous dance. He knew his anxiety and excitement weren’t logical. Who was this he wanted to see so badly anyway? A teacher? A magician? A miracle worker? Or was he something else. It was this thought that had made the well dressed but small man consider the unthinkable.
What would people think? I’ve got a reputation to consider. I’m sure they would make up whole new songs about me now. The short man climbing a tree. Foolishness. Right?
Foolishness, of course. But then again, not much in his life made sense any more. He no longer was satisfied with the accumulation of more and more wealth. The pursuit of power over others seemed more and more empty. He had been asking questions, at least in his own mind, that were of a foreign sort. His life seemed devoid of meaning, and he was looking… but for what? He couldn’t quite say. But for something. And now, in his robes, he was standing on the edge of the road, looking into the distance. Jesus was passing through, and the tax collector couldn’t shake the idea that this mysterious man walking through Jericho was who he was looking for. The only way for him to see Jesus was to go up. To climb.
To climb or not to climb? To risk or not to risk? The tree is right there. I know I could get high enough.
He took a tentative step forward. Then another. Then he grabbed hold of the low branches and swung a leg up. He looked around briefly. The crowd was coming, the noise growing louder. Up and up and up. His heart beat faster and faster and faster. Still he climbed. He was sweating now through the weight of his clothes. The crowd was gathering right below Him now, teeming with excitement. The leaves got thicker as he edged forward… and then he saw Him. And something burst inside of Zacchaeus. He froze, straddling a branch of the sycamore tree. It was a feeling like he’d never experienced, for to his great surprise, the man wasn’t looking at the crowd. He wasn’t glad-handing the people around Him, nor was He looking forward where He was going.
He was looking into the tree. And for a moment, Zacchaeus was crushed.
Great. He’s looking up here. Now everyone else is looking up here, too. Here it comes – the jeering and mocking, just like when I was a kid.
“Come down, Zacchaeus.”
And then he knew. He could never, in the days that followed, know exactly how he knew. It wasn’t quite a feeling, but something more. But as he scurried down the tree, he was absolutely convinced that even though he was the one in the tree, even though he was the one who did the climbing, even though he was the one who was wanted so badly just to get a glimpse of Jesus…
He knew that Jesus had really been looking for him.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).