Today in the town of Jericho, down the steep highway from Jerusalem, an immense gnarled tree is carefully protected by a circular fence. According to tradition, this is the famous sycamore tree of Luke’s Gospel–the very tree that Zacchaeus climbed. Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector, is already wealthy, and regardless of whether he has actually defrauded anyone, tax collectors for the Roman Empire tended to be about as well-liked as IRS auditors.
In coming face-to-face with Jesus and hearing Jesus call to him in invitation, Zacchaeus’ mind and heart are opened to recognize something he knew deep down all along: His material blessings are at others’ expense. He has more than he needs, in part because others have less than they need. This encounter with Jesus through loving invitation to relationship rather than wrathful call to ‘repent or perish’ reorients Zacchaeus’ whole perspective beyond his own security and comfort.
Looking beyond himself, Zacchaeus can consider how to use his privilege to help restore justice to his neighbors. He finds a new orientation toward the reign of God that Jesus brings into the world, and a new purpose: to love and serve others. This is repentance.
This message is excerpted from the Bible study “Turning to others” by Meghan Johnston Aelabouni in the October issue of Gather magazine.
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