A Tree Grows in Jericho

Geocaching is one of my favorite activities with my grandkids. You will recall from earlier posts that geocaching is a virtual treasure hunt using a GPS system in which you are looking for tiny little containers that usually house nothing more than a piece of paper on which to sign your name.

The caches are generally located in fairly hard-to-find places, some that require, ahem, let’s say adventurous activities. Our geocaching quests have included Addie climbing along the side of a bridge over a creek (don’t tell her mom; I don’t think she knows about that one), walking through a tunnel that was owned by Denver Water (the bed upon which we walked was dry, and I prayed really hard the entire time that Denver Water wouldn’t decide to open up a valve and send water shooting through the tunnel while we were helplessly trudging through), and reaching under bushes or into holes that could (but didn’t) contain danger.

One such geocaching escapade in 2014 took Alastair and me into a well-populated park not far from our house. The description of the geocache fully disclosed that finding the cache would involve climbing a tree. Well, it certainly wasn’t going to be moi who would climb the tree. Alastair was 9 years old, an age at which climbing a tree seems fun. We located the tree, and before you could say Zacchaeus-the-tax-collector, Alastair proceeded to begin his journey up the tree, flip-flops and all…..

Zacchaeus, of course, was the evil tax collector from Jericho who was so excited to see Jesus speak to the crowds that he shimmied up the tree as fast as Alastair. His prize wasn’t a geocache. Instead, he not only earned the  chance to see Jesus in person despite his short stature, but he also received an invitation to join Jesus at dinner. This, of course, raised all sorts of Jewish eyebrows.  Jesus would rather eat with a sinner than someone as holy as us.

The thing is, Zacchaeus was as excited with his prize as Alastair was when he grabbed the geocache container that was hanging at the top of the tree. In fact, Zacchaeus was so excited that he immediately promised Jesus that he would pay back the money fourfold that he had collected under questionable means. Not only that, but he would give half his possessions to the poor.

I’m sure that Jesus was absolutely DELIGHTED that Zacchaeus not only had seen the evil of his ways, but was turning over a new leaf and instead of taking, would be giving from that point on. I, like Jesus, admire this man for turning greed into generosity, something I keep saying I’m going to do, yet somehow still look the other way at people holding signs.

But while I might have missed the point of the gospel story, I have to admit that I am equally impressed that this man could climb the tree so quickly, and apparently come down without breaking any important bones. Alastair made it up and down the tree pretty quickly too. But it would have been more difficult for Zacchaeus. After all, being a tax collector and all, he probably was older than 9, and he was likely wearing a long robe.

But he probably wasn’t wearing flip flops.

A Village

470689730-2So, there’s this particular family that goes to the church we attend in Mesa, AZ. I almost can’t keep my eyes off of them. Here’s the makeup: There is a patriarch and a matriarch, somewhere in the neighborhood of my age or a bit older. They have three daughters, two of whom are married, and one of whom is not (or at least her significant other never attends Mass with them). One of the married daughters has two children, a girl and a boy; the other married daughter has five children, all boys (imagine that!). The aforementioned second daughter’s husband’s parents sit with them as well, as does his brother and wife, who have a young son. Have you lost count yet? Some iteration of two or three of the aforementioned people come to Mass early so as to save a couple of pews so that they can all sit together – every Sunday. As the Mass progresses, the kids – who range in age from somewhere around 10 all the way down to six or seven months – move around from parent to parent and grandparent to grandparent. In fact, the kids don’t even choose by blood relation, as they will sit on anyone’s lap.

Well, I will admit that the patriarch of the family doesn’t get much involved in the lap-sitting. He just gazes quietly at the brood, undoubtedly thinking that he – like Abraham – has descendants as abundant as the stars in the heavens.

They are a sight to behold, as you might imagine. So much love. Such committed faith. That crazy, mixed-up family most assuredly demonstrates the old African proverb it takes a village.

God loves us in the same way that the members of that family love one another. He loves us without thought to who we are, what we do for a living, what we look like, who we will vote for. Unconditional love.

The gospel reading demonstrates God’s unconditional love of us, through his son Jesus. In the gospel reading, Luke tells us about the tax collector (and isn’t it ALWAYS the tax collector?) who comes to hear Jesus speak. I admit to be a bit distracted by the fact that he was so short that he actually climbed a tree in order to hear Jesus teach. Nevertheless, climb the tree he does, as ridiculous as it must have looked, even back in those days. But rather than saying “Get out of that tree; you look plain silly,” Jesus instead suggests the man come down out of the tree, and then, to the horror of the crowd, invites himself to the tax collector’s house for dinner. Why? Because the tax collector is sorry for the wrongs he has committed on a daily basis and asks for God’s forgiveness. And because God loves all of us unconditionally.

Perhaps we too need to learn how to love people for who they are and not judge because they think differently than we do. As I look at social media every day, it becomes more and more apparent that we have become a people who point fingers at one another. We judge – and ARE judged – by our political choices and religious beliefs.

Perhaps Jesus’ suggestion that the man come down out of the tree is the 30 A.D. version of turning off Facebook, which is maybe what I ought to do for bit.

And appropo to nothing that I spoke of above, here is a photo of another spectacular AZ sunset from my brother’s patio, more proof of God’s love…..


I guess the short man didn’t try to climb a cactus.

This post linked to the GRAND Social