Sunday Retold – Zacchaeus and the tree

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This week’s Sunday Retold follows the Gospel reading set for many churches this week: Luke 19:1-10

A story about climbing trees, and looking up – among other things!

Jesus is making his way towards Jerusalem for the last time – and people still don’t understand.  They are still claiming him as theirs, and keeping out people they consider not good enough.  This man was a tax collector – a collaborator with the Roman invaders, and it would seem a cheat. We don’t know what has drawn him to Jesus, what has made him so determined to catch a glimpse of this teacher despite the hostility he faced, but we do know that Luke’s account of Jesus’ life pays attention to the way Jesus included, accepted, those who were outside – outside what was considered respectable, righteous, good.  He welcomed those others called sinners.  Perhaps the tax collector had heard this.  Perhaps there was something magnetic, attractive, full of life about Jesus.  Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard he healed people.

Here, again, we see it happening.  Jesus looks up.  He sees the unexpected – a wealthy man in a tree.  Trees contain all kinds of riches! When I read this story, I am reminded of the Genesis 3  story – where trees are important, and Adam and Eve hide in the greenery.  Perhaps there are echos here….

We see that Jesus did not berate Zacchaeus with all his cheating thieving treacherous ways, he did not confront him with his sin, he asked this man for hospitality.  He called out his goodness, he treated him as worthy, he accepted him.  If the disapproval of others had the power to make him make amends, there was disapproval enough in Jericho to do it.  He did not need to be reminded of what was wrong, but of what was right.  Jesus reminded him of his essential, elemental goodness.  He treated him as good, with kindness and respect.  He did it publicly, in the face of criticism.  He sat down with him, shared food with him.  The table is a powerful place of deep sharing.  Jesus uses the image of a banquet, a feast, again and again to show us what the Kingdom of God is like.

And see what sharing a table did for Zacchaeus – it gave him the courage to turn his life upside down, to change everything. We can imagine what it must have been like to have Jesus there, next to him, willing him on!

How good it is to know that Jesus shows us what God is like – like this.  We need not be afraid, we need not hide.  God reaches out to find, to love those people who are rejected, who perhaps reject themselves.   God’s power is at work to transform, to change lives, to make new- for all.

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The gospels are full of encounters between Jesus and individual people, as well as crowds and groups.  When I read the conversations Jesus has with individuals, I can’t help noticing that each one is different.  He has no formula – he deals with each person as they need. Each one is precious.

You might like to use the picture above, with the trees and the fence, as a way into prayer. What do you see?
Think about the story of Zacchaeus.  Can you remember a time when someone just accepted you as you were?  What was that like?
Have you been in a situation where you have accepted someone else like that, or seen it happen?  What was that like?
Has sharing food with someone been a memorable experience for you?  What happened?
In this story, what did God’s saving power do?  Is there more than one way of answering that?

Here is an extract from The Bible Retold
If you would like to use any of my material, you are welcome to do so, saying where it comes from.

Jesus made his way steadily towards Jerusalem. On his way he passed through Jericho, with its date palms and fragrant balsam trees.  Crowds poured out to see him, and to see the blind beggar who had been healed by the roadside.

“What’s all the commotion – come away from there and get on with your work!” Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of the region, called out to his assistants.  They scurried back to their work, and the quiet clink of gold coins.  But Zacchaeus could not concentrate – the joy of the crowd had unsettled him.   He swept neat heaps of gold into his purse and went out.

The sounds got louder and louder.  The crowds were calling out for Jesus.  Zacchaeus tried to catch a glimpse of the Teacher, but he could not, for he was a short man, and the people would not let him through.  He ran on ahead and shinned up the stout trunk of a sycamore fig tree, sliding out along one of the branches that shaded the road.  Then he waited, watching Jesus getting closer, as he talked and laughed with the people.  Suddenly, quite close to the tree, Jesus stopped, and looked up.   Zacchaeus gasped, and tried to hide among the leaves.  Everyone was looking now.
“Zacchaeus, isn’t it?” Jesus said “You’d better hurry down from there.  I’d like to stay at your house today!”  So the chief tax collector swung down, rubbing green smears from his fine robes.  They set off together, and Zacchaeus threw open his doors to Jesus and his friends, beaming with joy.

But, the crowds were spitting with anger “Did you see that? He’s gone to be a guest of that thief, that collaborator with the Romans!”

Zacchaeus stood up before them all, and spoke to Jesus. “Look, Lord, right now I’ll give half of everything to the poor! And if I’ve cheated anyone, I’ll pay them back four times over!”
Jesus answered “God’s power is at work in this house today – the power to rescue and to change.  This man, too, is one of God’s children.  For the Son of Man came to seek, and to save, those who have lost the way to God!”

And some prayers from Prayers and Verses
to help us pray through this wonderful story

Grant me to recognise in others, Lord God,
the radiance of your own face.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955

Help me, Lord Jesus, learn who you are.
Help me learn as I try to love, and forgive,
and help others as you did.
Thank you most of all for loving me just as I am.

Jesus told us:
You are blessed when you know how poor you are inside,
for then you are open to God and his ways.
You are blessed when you are sad,
for then you will feel a loving hand on your shoulder.
You are blessed when you are gentle and humble;
you will see all of earth’s good things, there for you.
You are blessed when you hunger for what is right;
you will be satisfied.
You are blessed when you live generously and kindly,
for you will be treated with kindness, too.
You are blessed when you are wholeheartedly good;
nothing will stand between you and God.
You are blessed when you work for peace;
you will be called one of God’s children.

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