When God creates all things good for human beings, a specific tree is mentioned: the Tree of Life (Gen 2. 9). It is put in the middle of the Garden of Eden: this garden planted by God (Gen 2. 8).
At the pivot point in the history of humanity is the Tree of the Cross, the life-giving tree.
History comes to an end as the Tree of Life is again mentioned. At the very end of time, it flourishes, perhaps as a group of trees, on both sides of the River of the Water of Life which flows from the Throne of God (Rev 22. 1 – 3). This is in the Holy City of the New Creation.
All through the Bible there is mention of trees and they are often used in familiar stories and events, in poetry and prophesy. They play a part in the story of redemption. In this set of reflections various aspects of trees (some admittedly fairly tenuous) will be examined. Hopefully this will lead to further thought or investigation on the part of the reader.
In general a chronological or historical approach will be used but some freedom and flexibility may also be applied if deemed appropriate or expedient.
This theme has been chosen to take us through the Trinity season because the liturgical colour for this season is green, evoking thoughts of new life, flourishing and hope.
‘I must stay at your house today’ [Luke 19. 5]
Towards the end of his ministry, as Jesus moves towards Jerusalem, he passes through Jericho before visiting Bethany. The meeting is full of interesting details: the name and occupation of the man Jesus encounters, his physical appearance, his character. This makes for a lively narrative. It is not clear what the term chief tax collector means since this is the only place it occurs in the Bible but the area around Jericho was rich and prosperous and the city may have been a centre for the collection of taxes. Zacchaeus was not a popular person because he collected taxes for the ruling power, the Romans, and Zacchaeus had opportunities to use his position to make money for himself.
Because he is not very tall Zacchaeus has to be inventive to be able to see Jesus. He runs ahead and climbs a sycamore (sycamore-fig) tree. In his determination to see Jesus he is not worried about looking rather undignified. This tree has thick spreading branches so it can hold a man easily.
Jesus knows there is someone in the tree and looks up. He does not ask what Zacchaeus is doing or if he wants Jesus to do anything he merely instructs Zacchaeus to come down and prepare for Jesus to visit him. By using his name Jesus shows his concern for Zacchaeus and recognises him as a person.
This causes consternation in the crowd because Jesus, a respected teacher, has indicated that he is going to enter the house of a ‘sinner’ [Luke 19. 7]. But Zacchaeus ‘was happy to welcome’ Jesus [Luke 19. 6]. Zacchaeus does not formally repent , make a profession of faith or pledge to follow Jesus. Instead he promises to act: to repay fourfold anyone whom he has overcharged and to amend his life.
In contrast to the rich young man [Matt 19. 22; Mark 10. 22; Luke 18. 18 – 30] who cannot leave his fortune, Zacchaeus is happy to give up his wealth. Therefore Zacchaeus is recognised as a son of Abraham and thus part of the community: no longer estranged. This means that he will inherit the salvation promised: ‘today salvation has come to this house’ [Luke 1 19 .9].
In the final sentence Jesus makes a mission statement: the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost [Luke 19. 10].
save us from envy,
and deliver us from the chains of wealth
for your abundance is enough for us.
Ransomed through your Son,
may we inherit the crown of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.