The symbolism of a Sycamore tree suggests the tree of regeneration and transformation, the tree for the true status and stature as a member of the Body of Christ. Jesus on his way to Jericho saw Zacchaeus sitting in a sycamore tree and understood the symbolism.
We are all on Jericho roads though different for each of us, churches and nations. Jericho road could mean dealing with divisions in the church, nations, political chaos, broken relationship, experience of poverty and loneliness. Our contemporary Jericho road ‘is the place where knife crime is on the rise, loneliness is endemic, food poverty is on the increase, racism and hate crime is widespread and people are sleeping on the streets.’
In Israel, the sycamore tree symbolises regeneration, a reference to someone who is spiritually reborn. Zacchaeus’ regenerated heart caused him to make restitution and change his life in Jericho. Zacchaeus’ story warns us to stop separating “what we do” from “who we are.” As a Jews he was considered a traitor, making a living and wealth in dubious way. At a point in his life, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus more than he wanted to maintain his economic comfort hence, a sycamore tree is a symbol of a place in our own lives where we are able to have a clear vision of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Literally or figuratively, we have compromised in our lives and nations, for example in our ministry or work, by failing to live faithfully the implications of our Christian faith.
The Zacchaeus in each of us cannot see Jesus because we are short in spiritual stature and the crowd, especially the crowd of secular humanism is not only obstructing our theological views, it is redefining it. Regardless of the crowds around us, when we see Jesus on the Jericho Road of our own lives we are invited to exercise our faith, to choose Him and change. The reflection is that, the “crowds” in our lives, churches and nations rarely lead us to God. What the “crowds” in Matthew 17 said about Jesus was not true, hence, like Zacchaeus, we need to climb a sycamore tree of repentance where we can finally capture a glimpse of Jesus. The Sycamore tree did not only created a clear line of vision for Zacchaeus, ‘it helped him to rise above the crowd and see the Lord clearly. It placed him in the right position for the invitation that would follow. Jesus told him to come down for he was coming to his house! Imagine the thrill. For us, the Sycamore tree is a symbol of that place in our own lives which enables us to have a clear vision of Jesus.’
Zacchaeus looked foolish to the crowd that day just as the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). To a crowd, just as the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, they were so quick to judge Zacchaeus, not knowing that, Zacchaeus is a new creature, old things have passed away. The opinion of the crowd did not matter to Zacchaeus anymore. In fact, looking foolish to the crowd is “part of the program.” Jesus’ intentionality, with the heart of a Father on our road to Jericho points to his mission and search for a lost child. Using the words of William Edwin Sangster, ‘offering the Gospel to people with no sense of need comes dangerously near to casting pearls before swine.’ For Zacchaeus, despite his economic status, he lacked spiritual stature. The Zacchaeus in each of us (spiritual shortness or blindness like the man crying for mercy) reminds us that we all have a need beyond the earthly riches.
Nothing can compensate for our Jericho road of political divisions, church decline, immorality and personal stunted growth except in repentance. Jesus became more important to Zacchaeus than his pride hence, his mocking by the crowd did not stop Jesus ‘to pause His trip to Jerusalem in order to pierce Zacchaeus’ heart with an act of His amazing grace so that Zacchaeus is now a blessing to others.’ God is inviting us to climb that Sycamore Tree our lives, above the crowd of unbelief around us so as to find the place that will make it possible for us to see and respond to Jesus’ invitation.
Jesus’ closing words to Zacchaeus in this story are his words for us today: “Today salvation has come to this (your) house” churches and nations in Jesus name. Amen.