You know that really is very odd. Zacchaeus was not popular in his town, but he would have had a certain standing. It would be like the mayor or your bank manager suddenly taking it into their head to start running about and shinning up trees. So the tree has symbolic as well as literal purpose and the question is what purpose does the tree have in this story that might apply to us as well?
One excellent purpose that the tree had for Zacchaeus was as a hiding place. This was a spot where he could see without being seen. Given that folk did not like him very much this was definitely preferable to rubbing shoulders with those in the crowd who might be inclined to step on his toes. He could look without committing himself. He could hide the things of which he was ashamed. I suspect we all have sycamore trees for hiding in at times. Some of us hide in our work, some in our family life. Some of us hide in pleasures and past times. All of us at times can see the advantage of a place to see without being seen.
Another great advantage of the sycamore tree for Zacchaeus was that it gave him a vantage point, a height above the crowd. At a more symbolic level, he was choosing a spot of superiority, seeing himself perhaps as a bit above others, maybe on account of his wealth, maybe on account of his superior cleverness which was allowing him to gain status and riches at the expense of others. We might like to ask ourselves, where in our lives do we do that? - maybe not consciously, but just when our ego gets the better of us and we start perhaps to think of ourselves as a bit better than the next person. That's the moment when we have shinned up our inner sycamore tree and are sitting there feeling a bit pleased with ourselves.
Until of course Christ comes along and suddenly we are not seeing, but being seen. Seen for who we are, the bad and the good - and being loved just as we are. For notice there is not the least shade of judgment in Jesus's exchange with Zacchaeus. 'Hurry and come down', he says 'for I must stay at your house today'. To Jesus it does not matter that Zacchaeus has been hiding stuff, or defrauding people, or thinking himself above the crowd. All that matters is that He loves him and wants to spend time with him. And as a result of that love given without condemnation Zacchaeus changes his whole way of operating.
So what about us? Are we ready to be seen by Jesus, to get down out of our sycamore trees of shame or false importance and welcome Him into our lives and our homes? For to be seen by Jesus is to see ourselves as we truly are, free children of God who need no tree to hide in. Amen
by Penny Jones, for Pentecost 24, Year C