I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an actual Sycamore tree or that I’d recognize one growing outside my front door. However, I am quite certain they are everywhere and full of people who are short on a variety of things. Zacchaeus isn’t the only one who engages in silly, if not ridiculous, activities in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus. The texts this week are full of the very human tendency to complicate life in order to simplify it. We sometimes have trouble seeing what is right in front of us.
Habakkuk describes life from a human point of view. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” The prophet saw the misery and violence all around him and did not want to be a part of it. In the face of injustice he decides to stand at his watchpost and observe. God’s response it to say that there is a vision, a time will come when the proud will falter and the righteous will live by faith. Perhaps God was suggesting that the righteous, the faithful, aren’t just supposed to stand and watch. Maybe the vision becomes reality when the faithful jump into the fray, work toward peace (and justice), and discover God amidst the broken. Maybe it’s just my modern ears, but standing at a watchpost when there is violence and injustice all around, seems really silly…
While Habakkuk offers a human viewpoint, Isaiah offers a glimpse of what God might have been seeing. God is tired of people trying to pay for their sins with sacrifices and offerings. They are not living as God would like and are just going through the motions of worship. Burnt offerings mean so little and festivals even less when no one seeks justice, rescues the oppressed, defends the orphan, or pleads for the widow. How silly these rituals are when the faith behind them is devoid of life. Yet, all hope is not lost. God is still willing to meet us where we are and love us in spite of our foolishness.
This is how Jesus came to be at the foot of a Sycamore tree calling Zacchaeus to come down. Zacchaeus whom scripture tells us was “short in stature” was desperate to see Jesus, to catch a distant glimpse of him. So he shimmied up a tree. How silly this tax collector must have looked in his fine robes perched out on a limb. There are so many things Zacchaeus could have done to see Jesus. He could have cared for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. He could have been more fair, more kind as he collected taxes. But in that moment, a Sycamore tree seemed like the best option.
We live in a time when Habakkuk’s words could be our words. We raise the question of “How long, O Lord, how long?” over and over again. While we might not stand at a watchpost to wait and see what vision God has in store, we do some other futile things when we find ourselves a bit short. Those moments when we are short of patience, short of hope, short of faith, short of insight, we might engage in activities that don’t exactly lend themselves to writing God’s vision for all to see.
And those other moments when we are short of money, of food, of time, of safety, of peace the trees we climb might be just as foolish as Zacchaeus’ Sycamore tree and no closer to Jesus than he. It’s not impossible to imagine that in these moments our worship words and songs mean little to God. God is waiting for us to see that our sins have been cleansed. God is waiting for us to cease engaging in violence and evil and pursue goodness and mercy. God asks us to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, and care for the widow and the orphan. In the meantime, do you hear God calling us out of our trees that we might dine with Jesus today?
Do these words resonate with where the Spirit is calling you with these texts or do you hear something different? Please join the conversation below to support one another as we seek to preach the Good News.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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