In Luke 19:1-10, we read an all too familiar story about Zacchaeus. Even someone unfamiliar with much of the Bible has probably heard this story of a “wee little man…who climbed up in a Sycamore tree…etc”. But in studying the scripture this past week, 3 new words from the story emerged that I’ve not paid much attention to in the past. The first word (words) I want to flesh out a bit are the words of Jesus in verse 5, “come down”.
Jesus is looking up into the tree at Zacchaeus. The description we have of Zacchaeus includes: Chief Tax Collector, rich (wealthy), and short. Being a tax collector in general, he was viewed as a “traitor” by his Jewish community, for tax collectors were employees of Rome. They could add amounts to the taxes they were required to collect, and they were allowed to keep that extra funding for themselves. He was not simply any tax collector either, he was a Chief tax collector. Which meant, he had several collectors working under him. Let’s just say, he was not a welcome guest at very many parties.
The scripture tells us he was “trying to see who Jesus was”, but how he was trying to do so tells us a lot about how he viewed himself. Verse 4 tells us that he “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore fig tree”. Imagine a short man running in what was most likely a long tunic. Yes, “ἀναξυρίδες” (trousers) had been invented by then, but were often seen as clothing of the barbarians. So tunic it was. Probably having to “hike up” the edges as he ran, it was not the way a dignified man would carry himself. Then he goes right into climbing a tree. Men who wear tunics should not climb trees in the first place. But this isn’t just any tree. This is a tree that was guaranteed to be empty in that area. A sycamore fig tree bore fruit that was most often fed to the pigs, and so the tree itself was even considered to be “unclean”.
Zacchaeus knew how people saw him. A tax collector didn’t have confusion as to how the consensus felt about him. He figured, they couldn’t think anything worse of him for running, and climbing a sycamore tree, eh? Jesus approaches this man who has revealed his self-claimed identity through his actions, and begins by saying “hurry and come down”.
How often do we approach Jesus, already holding onto our identity firmly? We know who we are. We know how people think of us, and how we think of ourselves. Maybe we’re the complete opposite of Zaccchaeus, feeling pretty good about ourselves and proud of what we’ve accomplished. Perhaps we find ourselves climbing the sycamore right beside him, desperate to know more about this Jesus.
Wherever we find ourselves receiving our identities from this week, Jesus begins his words to us with “Hurry, come down…”