Lately I have been too reserved in my relationship with my Father. Too preoccupied. Too busy. Too negligent. And the Spirit in all his gentleness and persistence has been nudging me.
And the urgency and frequency of the nudging has increased.
I was sitting in church almost a month ago. Dave, our minister, was talking about having a balanced life. Something caught my attention so much that I wrote it on the edge of my bulletin so I wouldn’t forget.
But I did forget. I did.
But the Spirit is persistent. When He wants you to remember, when there is something for you to glean, to learn, to store he will continually bring the concept back to the forefront until you recognize and acknowledge it.
I have been called to a relationship of abandon with the Father. A life of utter, unrestricted praise. And every time I try to be dignified, calm and sedate the Spirit shakes his head at me. He knows I don’t want to look foolish. I don’t want people to look at me and see me as a fanatic. I don’t want to be labeled.
But the Spirit is whispering. And he used a passage from Luke spoken through Dave’s mouth to remind me.
Jesus was traveling through Jericho. His reputation was moving before him like a wave undulating through the whispers of those who were inwardly hungry and wanting something more than the daily routine. People wanted to see the face of God. Jesus and his disciples, this close knit bunch, moved down that narrow highway—treacherous and dangerous. And the people heard he was coming. The heralds moved a few miles ahead of Jesus. They shouted and talked and gestured. The new prophet was coming. The man who had healed and raised people from the dead was passing by today.
Zacchaeus gleaned the tidbits of information. He was tired of the life he had been living. Tired of being a servant of the Roman rule, tired of being held in contempt by his Jewish brothers, tired of being stabbed with visual daggers, weary of the undercurrent of distrust and contempt when he came into town. He had stolen from these people and lined his own pockets with their money. Everyone recognized his name, but no one knew him. He was alone and isolated. Ostracized. He was hurting and no one knew. He was hungry and no one could hear his stomach growl.
The fervor increased the closer Jesus got. Zacchaeus knew he would never be able to get a glimpse of this man. Zacchaeus was too short. He couldn’t see over the shoulders of the crowd. If anything, Zacchaeus was pragmatic and resourceful. On the edge of the dusty road sycamore trees grew. Just a few. But the branches were strong and low.
Zacchaeus shrugged his dignity off like a dirty cloak. Left it laying on the edge in a pile. He girded his tunic and climbed the tree. He perched like a bird on the branches. He could see far down the road in either direction. And he waited.
He saw and heard everything. Inwardly he was thrilled to be high up off the ground and he was pleased with his vantage point.
The man and his group were almost to his tree. Zacchaeus leaned down just a little in order to hear the conversations as they passed. He held his breath so he could hear the slightest phrase.
He didn't expect the shout and it startled him. For a moment he lost his balanced perch in his tree. Zacchaeus swiveled around and Jesus looked at him. Looked him directly in the eye.
“Zacchaeus, you come down. I am going to your house today.” There was no asking. Just a statement of fact. And Zacchaeus couldn’t pull his eyes away. They were locked with this man—this prophet who could see right through him. All the way through. “I am going to your house today, Zacchaeus. I want to eat with you.”
Zacchaeus slid down the branches of the tree. He barely noticed the rough scrape of the bark on his thighs or the scratches on his palms.
Jesus heard Zacchaeus’ stomach growl. He recognized the loneliness. He saw the guarded pain from being shunned for so many years. How long had it been since someone had been to Zacchaeus’ house to eat? How long since someone had broken bread with Zacchaeus the tax collector? Zacchaeus couldn’t remember.
But, because he had climbed a tree, because he had left his pride in a heap at its base, because Jesus had arrived Zacchaeus experienced salvation. He had been restored. He had been redeemed from the ugly, futile way of life he had embraced.
The Spirit has been talking to me. Through my minister he reminded me that “we need to start climbing sometimes.” *
I need to find a sycamore tree and leave my cloaks of pride and reservations in a pile on the road. I need to reach up and wrap my arms around a fat tree branch and hoist myself up—shuffle and scoot. I have been too busy. I have been too preoccupied with image and perceptions. I need to abandon it all and climb a tree simply because I want to see Jesus.
My God hears my stomach growl. He sees my struggles with those around me. He knows the hurt and pain because I can’t get the relationships right. He understands why I can’t make sense of it all. He is very aware that I falter and fail.
And he is waiting for me to climb the tree.
*David Scalf: minister