Written by: Rachael Keefe

Out on a Limb

The story of Zacchaeus and his sycamore tree is fun and simple. If you grew up in church or have done time as a Vacation Bible School volunteer, then you …

Out on a Limb

The story of Zacchaeus and his sycamore tree is fun and simple. If you grew up in church or have done time as a Vacation Bible School volunteer, then you have the “Zacchaeus was a wee little man” ditty in your head. However, there is more to the story.

Nobody can blame a short man for wanting to see over a crowd. He can’t even be faulted for climbing a tree to get a better look. I have this image of a pudgy (I don’t know why) little man sweating with the effort of climbing a tree. Then the look of embarrassed bewilderment when Jesus calls him back out of the tree. Zacchaeus then did all he could to show his faith. Jesus rewarded him with salvation.

The tricky part is not to get focused on the simple framework of the story. Sure, Zacchaeus was a tax collector and an outcast among devout Jews. Yes, Jesus went and ate with him which made people question what Jesus was up to with his blatant disregard for social rules. But it’s the tree and the climbing of it that captures my attention.

Zacchaeus went up a tree in order to get a closer look at Jesus. He didn’t have to; Jesus was right there on the ground, waiting to dine with him. Of course, he was probably the first and the last to do exactly that. Since then, people have climbed all sorts of “trees” in the name of getting better look at Jesus. There are those who climb trees of righteousness, knowledge, self-sacrifice, self-assurance and a variety of others with the intent of getting closer to Jesus. In reality, there’s just a whole lot of space between them and the ground where Jesus stands waiting.

It’s easy enough to identify what trees others are climbing. But what trees do you and I climb justifying our efforts in Jesus’s name? And are we willing to make the drop to the ground to actually live in the company of the one we seek?

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Come now, let us argue it out,
   says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.

RCL – Year C – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 3, 2013
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 with Psalm 119:137-144 or
Isaiah 1:10-18 with Psalm 32:1-7
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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