The past few days I’ve been enjoying Fr. James Coles’ postings on his blog Schole about Zacchaeus and his encounters with our Lord in the Gospel of Luke. Fr. James’ writings are simple, straightforward and very applicable to our own lives, much like the meeting of Zacchaeus and Christ.
I’ve often wondered why the Gospel writer troubled himself to actually describe the species of tree Zacchaeus was perched in. He identifies it to species, Ficus sycomorus, the Sycamore Fig or Fig Blackberry, named for the blackberry-like shape of its leaves and fruit resembling the fig. This is a bit confusing for us in North America because the sycamores of the Americas are actually members of the unrelated Plane tree family, misnamed sycamores for the tree in which Zacchaeus sought to view Christ. However, for the 1st century readers of the Gospel account, a reference to the “sycamore” was immediately known to them. They were familiar with it as a common shade tree of the valleys and river bottoms throughout the Middle East and Egypt – a tree that was widely cultivated in Egypt before the 3rd millenium B.C., considered both sacred and an important food source and carpentry wood for the construction of coffins for mummies.
In the Old Testament the sycamore is mentioned in several places. During the time of King Solomon, “the king made silver common as pebbles, and cedars plentiful as the sycamores of the lowlands” (I Kgs. 10:27). In Psalm 78:47, one of the plagues of Egypt comes “By killing their vines with hail and their sycamore trees with frost . . .” The Prophet Amos identifies himself as a simple shepherd and tender of sycamore trees, rather than a great prophet, when he said, I was no prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets. I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it was Yahweh who took me from herding the flock, and Yahweh who said, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel’ (Amos 7:14-15).
So what was the purpose of identifying the tree? And would it have made any difference if Zacchaeus had climbed a palm or olive tree? Was it simply a matter of availability and ease? Maybe the sycamore fig’s wide, spreading branches could have been more easily climbed by a small man like Zacchaeus, at least more easily and comfortably than a palm. The palm achieves its significance at our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem as a banner announcing the coming King; the oil of the olive as part of His anointing and blessing. But in Zacchaeus’ meeting with the Lord, Christ enters into Jericho as a simple traveller, hungry and tired, greeted from a fruit tree by a hospitable man, ready to offer him a place at his table. It seems there’s something special about climbing up to Christ; about one’s willingness to look for Him and to accept whatever He asks of you.
Please read Fr. Coles’ posts here and here for some real knowledge. Father offers you five minutes of reading and a lifetime of spiritual application. Don’t waste the opportunity; rush out like Zacchaeus and climb up to meet Christ!