Desire and Climbing the Tree

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The five Sundays before the beginning of Great Lent are important for helping us get ready to observe and participate in the Great Fast. We got started with the Sunday of Zacchaeus a few days ago. As many may know, Fr. Alexander Schmemann identified the theme of Zacchaeus Sunday as “desire.” Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He faced several obstacles. He was short in stature, and the crowd prevented from seeing Jesus. He was a tax collector, who was corrupt in his duties, and he defrauded people in the worst way. What business did he have associating with Jesus?

But there was a sycamore tree near him that he climbed. From that vantage point, he saw Jesus, and Jesus saw him. Zacchaeus had his desire fulfilled. Jesus invited Himself to stay with Zacchaeus, and his example of repentance followed. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8)

St Augustine offers this commentary of the significance of the tree Zacchaeus climbed:

He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of “silly fruit.” As the apostle says, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.” Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, “What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?… Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree. (St Augustine on Luke 19:2-4)

To climb the sycamore tree is to identify with the cross of the Lord. Zacchaeus climbing the tree was a type pointing to our Lord’s ascending the Cross. Though sinless, our Lord took our sins upon himself when He ascended the Cross, where He endured humiliation and the mocking of the crowd. By climbing the tree, Zacchaeus likewise exposed himself to mocking and the crowd’s judgment. But Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus was so great that he was willing to expose himself by ascending the sycamore tree. His life became transparent before the crowd and our Lord. And because of his repentance, our Lord came into his home and pronounced: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)

In order for us to see Jesus, we need to have a desire so great that we are willing, like Zacchaeus, to climb the scandalous tree of our Lord. By doing so, we can be transparent, giving no false impression of who we are. How can this kind of desire be nurtured in family life? Some thoughts to consider:

  • Parents: set an example for your children by being transparent with who you are. When you fall short and miss the mark, don’t hide it from your children, but admit those sins before your kids when able to and appropriate.
  • Teach your children to confess their sins to one another. The more we do this, the lesser the burden we carry.
  • Teach and practice the repentance of Zacchaeus. He not only came to terms with his sins, but he showed his repentance by changing his way of life.
  • Help your children understand that though there is sadness and regret in sins we commit, repentance itself is joyful. What is joyful is that Zacchaeus was lost and now is found. Salvation came to his house, and once again he became a son of Abraham. This is the joy of repentance.
  • Remind your kids over and over again, the pathway to see Jesus begins with desire, and that climbing the tree of the Cross manifests this desire. This enables us to see Jesus as we are, and Jesus to see us as He sees us; with eyes to offer His forgiveness and love if we are open to it. By this, He comes once again restore us as children of Abraham.

The blessing of the Lord be upon you,

The unworthy +Paul

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