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by Cindi Barnett, Associate Dean of Student Life
Is there More to the Story?
I don't know about you, but I can't read the story about Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree without immediately thinking of the Sunday School Song that I learned, complete with motions, that starts, "Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he . . . " But it seems that thing that we most remember about this story has to do with obsessing over Zacchaeus' size, instead of worrying about what actually happened in this scene between this tax collector and Jesus. That day in Jericho, Zaccheaus was determined to see Jesus. Now, we’re told that he was a short man. He couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd to watch Jesus and his disciples entering Jericho, so Zaccheaus ran on ahead, found a sycamore tree, climbed up into it, and stood on one of its lower branches so that he could see Jesus. Picture it. This short little man, disliked by his neighbors, standing in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus as he entered Jericho. Strange? Yes. Out of character? Most certainly. But Zacchaeus was determined, and that kind of determination is what changes things. When Jesus passed by, he looked up and saw Zacchaeus in that sycamore tree, and said to him, “Hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” It was the determination of Zaccheaus that evoked that response from Jesus. Isn’t that true of life, generally? It is the slow moving, but determined tortoise who usually wins the race., not the rabbit.
“I want to stay with you today,” said Jesus, “so hurry and come down from that tree.” And Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus into his home. And, just as important, later that evening he promised he would give half of what he had to the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone, he promised to pay them back four times as much. He made a decision to live his life differently. The point is that our determination has the power to change things because it changes us—we see things differently, feel things differently, and finally, we act differently.
Harry Emerson Fosdick once said that some of what happens to us in life is serendipitous; change happens and we adjust to it. But, he said, much in life is determined by the decisions we make. And he said, God has given us the freedom to act and the gift of intelligence so that we know how to act. In other words, we make decisions that shape us and can shape our future. That is a gift of inestimable worth. And behind them is the fact that God’s grace is available to effect change in our life. We don’t do it on our own. We do it because we open ourselves to God’s grace, just like Zacchaeus, running to see Jesus.