I imagine most of us here have climbed a tree at some stage in our lives- probably when we were children. You will know from that experience that climbing is often the easy part. Getting down can be much harder.
I have often wondered how Zacchaeus, that man of small stature in the Gospel story, climbed the sycamore tree with such apparent ease. Part of the answer is that the Jericho sycamore is quite different from our
European variety. Instead of one trunk it has many branches growing from its base, something like a fig tree. This makes it easier to climb though getting down remains a challenge.
It is still hard to imagine your revenue officer leaving the comfort of their office and heading off to climb a tree even if it is easier then we thought. It is hard to imagine them or any of us having the courage and humility to take such a step.
Yet we are told that Zacchaeus, this important, if despised tax collector, did just that – left the security of his office and ventured out onto the street and climbed a tree? What pushed him out of the safety of his office – nudged him to go and see this man? He probably heard the news that Jesus had healed a blind man at the entrance to the town. Whatever it was, he threw caution to the wind, obeyed the call and went off to catch a glimpse of this man Jesus.
Then while peering out from the safety of his perch, Zacchaeus is spotted by Jesus. Jesus challenges him to leave the safety of his tree and come down meet him – he wants to be his guest today. Jesus invites him to participate rather then remain an observer.
This second step requires even more courage than the first – it is tempting to stay up there – watching, criticising, judging, safe at a distance – rather than descend and stand vulnerable on the street in the midst of a hostile crowd. Come out of hiding and meet your God.
Zacchaeus again responds generously – and in that moment of meeting his life is turned upside down – ‘taking’ transformed into ‘giving back and giving away’.
Jesus’ invitation is open to all who repent – tax collectors and sinners – the invitation to come down from your tree and encounter Christ and Christ, St. Benedict tells us, is everywhere, in our brothers and sisters, in friends and neighbours, in the sick, in strangers. The possibility for transformation is all round us.
The Eucharist is also such an invitation – God inviting us to come out from where ever we are and be his guest today. “To be a christian”, according to Rowan Williams, “means to live as people who are always guests – that are wanted and welcomed”.
We too are free to climb our tree to get a better view. We also have the option to stay up there, observing, watching, criticising, judging or come down, risk the encounter and be his guest today and so be transformed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.