I have a question, why does Luke spend so much time describing Zacchaeus’ small stature and his act of climbing a tree? The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus could easily be told without such details. Of course, being the biblical scholars that you are, you know well that Luke is not interested in flowery details simply for the sake of entertainment value. These details must mean more.
By the way, if you ever get to the Holy Land you can go to Jericho and actually visit the tree that Zacchaeus climbed! This was pointed out to us by our driver who explained that the particular tree that he supposedly climbed, is the latest of many versions of the Zacchaeus tree honored in Jericho. He also mentioned that the town of Jericho during the time of Jesus, was miles away from its current location. As Fr. Murphy O’Connor always said, “Archeology and reasoned logic is no match for pious certitude.”)
Let’s get back to my question. I think Luke spends his time with Zacchaeus’ height and his inability to see Jesus as symbolic of any of us who are unable to see Jesus’ presence before us. For whatever reason, our stature, our occupation or any other of a million reasons, we find it hard to see Jesus right in front of us.
Luke calls Zacchaeus “short in stature.” We immediately think of height, but stature can also mean, “importance or reputation gained by ability or achievement.” This leaves the possibility that Zacchaeus is not very important in the city. The point Luke makes is that Zacchaeus limited in seeing Jesus, does something about it. He goes up. Rather than side to side or running around the crowd trying to find a better view, he climbs up above the din and the other limits, which allows him to clearly see.
When we struggle with Jesus’ presence in our lives, what do we do? Do we make an effort to rise above our limitations, or do we simply put up with whatever view we have.