I imagine that many of my priestly colleagues preached on the the story of Zaccheus today. Most of the sermons I have heard about this story end up asking the question, "When are we going to come down out of our tree and follow Christ?" But the problem is this: most of us aren't there yet. Coming down out of the tree makes it sound as though we have made a decision, that we know what we want. I contend that many of us are still jostling about in the noise and choas of the crowd.
I maintain that this story forces us to ask another question which is perhaps more relevant to our post-Christian society. That questions is "When are we going to get up in our tree?"
Zaccheus was a short little man who had betrayed his people. Being a tax collector for the Romans ensured that he would be a pariah among his own people. While I can crap on Zaccheus for that, I can also sympathize with how lonely this must have been for him.
But then Zaccheus hears about this guy who is wandering around the Galilee spreading love, forgiveness and acceptance wherever He went. Zaccheus wants a piece of that, so he goes down into the crowd, where some of the "righteous" probably took the time to elbow him in the ribs, knee him in the groin and step on his toes. But he can't see because he's just a wee little man, so he climbs up in a tree where only children and manual laborers harvesting fruit should be found.
Imagine The Godfather climbing a tree. The Don doesn't climb trees, OK? They bow down to him or he has Sonny chop them into toothpicks. Zaccheus is like the Don: feared and loathed by those around him, yet he assumes this ridiculous perch because he is desperate to find some meaning in life.
I will be the first to admit that faith is not everyone's thing, and even if it is, Christianity is not everyone's thing. But Zaccheus shows me that we have to be willing to "go out on a limb", so to speak, to find meaning in this life.