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Climb the Tree

by: Caroline Hand /// April 5, 2022

Imagine you are Zacchaeus in the Bible (Luke 19:1-10): wealthy and career-focused, occasionally gypping people, but overall you coin yourself as a good man. Other people don’t. You can feel it in their heated stares. People know that you work for Rome and the wealth you’ve gained comes from an accumulation of the earnings taken from the citizens of Jericho — leaving them with less than you. 

There’s always been a bit of tension inside of you: guilt when you notice the consequences of your greed, pleasure in your abundance, and yet a drowning feeling like you always need more than you currently have.

Word traveled fast around Jericho, through shop vendors and carpenters and traders, but sometimes you felt like the last to know about events because people tended to avoid you. While eating your daily fish and barley bread you overhear a couple of men speaking about a man named Jesus. Claiming He had been doing miracles, healings, signs, and wonders and was on His way to Jericho, your curiosity peaked and you leaned over to ask when, but the men gave one look at your pristine clothes, frowned in disgust, and moved away. 

“Tax collector,” they muttered, disapprovingly.

That reaction was typical. But, thankfully, on your way back to your station, you hear “tomorrow” from the lips of people readying themselves for the crowds that flocked this man named Jesus.

Curiosity kept you awake late that night. A miracle-worker coming to your city. Would you be able to buy your way into His presence? You had done that for most well-known people who visited Jericho. But something inside of you told you this man was different from other men you’d won the favor of. You’d always been proud of how far in your career you’d made it — despite how many people you’d had to cheat. But, in the midst of considering Jesus, an unfamiliar weight of unworthiness rose up in your chest. And that night you confessed to the God of Jacob your deception and lies and desire to change.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

You sleep soundly after your surrender and awake early to pray.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. I shall love You Lord my God with all my heart, all my being, and all my might.”

You feel led to stop by the temple and pay the tithes that you have missed for a long while, which is odd timing because you’d like to be out on the edge of the city watching for Jesus. But you listen to that inner nudge, and obey, which puts you in the back of large crowds lingering on each street of Jericho waiting for Him to arrive. You have a sinking feeling that you’re going to miss seeing Him completely. But then, for the second time today, you feel an inner tug to go somewhere—to a specific tree you used to climb as a boy. You glance at the tree a little ways away and then down at your nice clothes. I will look like a fool, you think and then realize, for the first time ever there’s this freeing feeling inside of you that it doesn’t matter what people think. What matters is to get a glimpse of Jesus. Because, at the mere thought of Him, you had already been repenting and tithing. As you move, you overhear one woman saying to another: “Did you hear? A blind man received sight in His presence! Just now! On the outskirts of town!” 

Scurrying to the old fig tree, you scramble clumsily up a few branches. And there! You spot Him. He is a distance away, but you can tell it’s Him by the palpable peace, joy, and authority that He carries, as if the whole world leaned in towards the sound of His voice. You lean in, too. And realize Jesus is staring back at You. He shifts His direction almost imperceptibly to be able to pass your tree. 

Your heartbeat quickens. Your palms begin to sweat. What will you tell Him? Could you pay Him to dine with you? That didn’t seem right. Before you decide on words, there He is in front of you and you’re still glued to the tree.

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your home today.”

You immediately move downwards as thoughts spiral in your mind: He knows my name. Pride surfaces, but then humility takes its place. If He knows my name, then He must know all I’ve done. Every lie and cheat and falsehood. 

At the base of the tree you welcome Him gladly. Being in His direct presence is when you really feel it: your every shame and disgrace melting away, being forgiven. You know at this moment, you’ll never be the same, some sort of completion was taking place. So, you speak the words that are bubbling straight from your heart, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I’ve cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Riches were nothing compared to being known and loved by Jesus.

He replies, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” 

These words penetrate your very soul. That’s what had happened! You had been lost, been sought out, and now found by the Lord Jesus Himself. He called you a Son of Abraham — Abraham, a man known to have been a friend of God — and now you, too, were God’s friend. You feel like a healing salve has been rubbed right onto your soul and there you stand in front of the Savior of the world with happy tears sprouting from your eyes.

“Thank you, Lord,” you speak softly as a wave of love sweeps over you. You begin to lead Jesus to your home, barely feeling like this moment could be real. Loved, known, forgiven, saved: those words echo in your head as you are with Him the rest of the day and night.