Last year, I made plans to travel to New York in the middle of winter to attend a 2 days retreat with Eugene Peterson. The fact that there will be 200 other pastor-leaders present did not deter me. It will be unlikely that Eugene will have time to spend personally with me. What did deter me were the comments of one of my friends. While not specifically referring to my decision, he mentioned the word ‘celebrity-sighting.’
David Benner, a well known psychologist turned spiritual director will be coming to Singapore next month. Should I sign up for the conference? I have read most of his published works. Do I expect something new or is this just another case of ‘celebrity sighting’.
Maybe Zacchaeus was also afflicted with a similar condition of ‘celebrity sighting’. He must have heard of this miracle working itinerant Rabbi with a large following. Maybe he just wanted a glimpse of this man. So knowing Jericho, he chose a good vintage point – a sycamore tree. This is the tree we were brought to see in Jericho. Now the poor tree must be the most photographed tree in the world (if it is the correct tree!)
A large tree with heart-shaped leaves and edible fruit sometimes called the “fig mulberry” (Ficus sycamorus L., not any of the plane trees [Platanus] of North America that are called “sycamores”). Sycamores were grown in generally frost-free lowland areas (cf. Ps. 78:47). Sycamore cultivation in the Shephelah, for which David’s government had a specific administrator (1 Chr. 27:28), became proverbial in its extent (1 Kgs. 10:27; 2 Chr. 1:15; 9:27). The “dresser” of sycamore trees (Amos 7:14) would pierce the unripe fruit to cause it to sweeten and thus become more palatable. Isa. 9:10 may refer to the use of sycamore wood in building. The “sycamine tree” (JB, NIV “mulberry”) of Luke 17:6 is probably the sycamore; its large size increases the impact of the saying (cf. 19:4). (Myers, A. C.1987. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 975).
|photo from Anthony Loke’s FB
Luke 19:1– 10
LK 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a `sinner.’ “8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
This narrative contains what may well be considered the “key verse” of Luke—Luke 19:10. The incident contains several primary Lukan features: the universal appeal of the gospel (vv. 2–4); the ethical problem of wealth (v. 2); the call of a “sinner” who was in social disfavor (v. 7); the sense of God’s present work (vv. 5, 9); the feeling of urgency (“immediately,” speusas, v. 5), of necessity (“must,” v. 5), and of joy (v. 6); restitution, With goods distributed to the poor (v. 8); and, above all, salvation (vv. 9–10). (Leifeld, W. L. 1984. Luke. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1007).
That Zacchareus did not fall off the tree when Jesus addressed him directly is a tribute to his tree climbing ability. Zacchareus is a Jew but one not well liked by his countrymen was obvious from the fact that he had to climb the tree. He was wealthy. Wealthy men often were and are able to go to the head of the crowd. Even his wealth was not able to grant him a front row view. He was wealthy and also or because he was the chief of tax collectors made him a despised person in this community. Nobody liked Zacchareus except maybe his mother and his Roman friends. It was curiosity that brought him up the tree. When Jesus called him by name and invited himself to his house, it was self-satisfaction that he came down and welcomed Jesus ‘gladly’ in front of his own people who despised him.
It was in his house, presumably over dinner that his self-satisfaction turned to repentance. In fact he was so moved that he pledged half his fortune to the poor and out of the other half, he would pay back any one he had wronged fourfold (which is more than the required amount). Money is one the most powerful of idols and the hardest to destroy. Note that it is Jesus who took the initiative. Jesus, who after healing the blind man (Luke 18: 35-43), walked into Jericho, spied Zacchareus up in the tree, made the contact and evoked the transformation. It was Jesus who delivered Zacchareus who was lost in corruption and wealth as he has earlier delivered another man lost in blindness and poverty. Jesus fulfils Ezekiel 34 when he brought salvation into that household that day. This narrative is another powerful reminder of our Lord Jesus who came with a mission of redemption for the lost.