Eager to See Jesus
When I was growing up, we had a tree right in the center of our front yard, that was pretty large in comparison to other trees we had. We always thought it was a sycamore tree, and still believe it was. So when I would hear the Bible story of Zacchaeus as recorded in Luke 19, I always pictured that tree, and felt some sort of tie to the story because we had a sycamore tree.
The trunk was maybe 18" and it was probably 8 feet before any limbs protruded, so it took some effort to climb, even for the young climber of the family, namely me. I could hug that trunk and work my way up, and when I finally got to a limb I could pull myself up, and could sit on it. As a kid, I was pretty high off the ground, and could always go higher. So my mind always imagined Zacchaeus climbing the sycamore tree just like I did.
With the world at our fingertips now, I've learned that what we call sycamore is considered "American sycamore", and that is what we had. The tree Zacchaeus climbed was a sycamore-fig tree according to Biblical accounts, and they are a bit different. For one thing, if fully grown, they have a larger trunk, and from pictures I've found, limbs protrude outward a little closer to the ground, albeit still a few feet off the ground. The picture used today, according to scholars in Jerico, is the actual tree Zacchaeus climbed. Others deny such.
But the thrust of this event in the life of Christ, and certainly in the life of Zacchaeus, was not the type of tree, size of tree, nor how difficult it was to climb. It could have been a rock wall, a building, a pile of limbs, anything, as we are told he was a short man, and could not see over the crowd otherwise. Zacchaeus was curious, eager to learn more about Jesus, and determined to see him.
Remember, he was a tax collector, a job that in that day, garnered a reputation of being dishonest and greedy, even if you were not. In the perception of other citizens, tax collectors were the worst of sinners. Yet Jesus chose him. Jesus, having never met him, called him by name, told him to come down, and take him to his house, where Jesus said he would stay. How did this Jesus even know his name, Zacchaeus probably asked himself? The crowd wasn't happy, they murmured and complained that Jesus "has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner."
Scripture says after arriving at Zacchaeus' house, that he says to Jesus, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold." We are not even told what dialogue had transpired between the two, but we see this sincere heart on display, wanting to make things right if they were not. We are not told whether or not he had cheated anyone out of anything, perhaps he had not, but we see him making sure that in this moment, and from this time forward, people would see him differently.
Would he continue to be a tax collector? We are not told. But we are told that this descendant of Abraham was told by Jesus, "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 the lost." This would certainly leave us to believe there were problems in Zacchaeus' life, perhaps his honesty was in question, but that a change took place, a change that Jesus said resulted in salvation.
Jesus could read hearts. Jesus wasn't fooled by anyone, and certainly he would have known if Zacchaeus' promises were empty or not. What he saw in Zacchaeus was a genuine thing, for which Zacchaeus was commended. This Zacchaeus went from being curious about Jesus the Christ on the road, to firmly believing the truth about Him, and becoming convinced of who He was, the Messiah for which the world had been waiting for. The world needs more Zacchaeuses.