I'm over six feet tall. If I wear my cowboy boots, I can add another half inch or so and get pretty close to 6'2". I guess that makes me above average height. Yet when it comes to following Jesus, I sometimes feel short in stature.
This reality hit home with me recently when reading the story about Zacchaeus in St. Luke's Gospel. Scripture tell us that Zacchaeus was a rich tax collector who "sought to see" Jesus as He was passing through Jericho. (Luke 19:1-3) But his desire to see Jesus faced two problems: (1) as usual, there was a large crowd surrounding Jesus; and (2) Zacchaeus "was small of stature." Quite simply, Zacchaeus was short, and there was no way he could see Jesus over the crowd. Undeterred, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to remedy the problem. Jesus, impressed by such determination, yelled out to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today." (Luke 19:5) Zacchaeus obeyed, came down from the tree, and received Jesus "joyfully." (Luke 19:6) St. Luke then recounts that Zacchaeus told Jesus he would give half of his good to the poor and make restitution "fourfold" to anyone he had defrauded--all this while the crowd murmured in astonishment that Jesus would be the guest of a sinner. (Luke 19:7-8) In response, Jesus announces that salvation has come to Zacchaeus' house, and, more broadly, that "the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:9-10)
Although I'm not physically "small of stature" as was Zacchaeus, I often identify with his plight. Like Zacchaeus, most days I sincerely seek to see Jesus; and not only to see, but to carry my cross and follow him. Yet certain things sometimes crowd around Jesus and obstruct my sight. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote, "The crowd is the confusion . . . which we must climb above if we wish to see Christ." This confusion--the crowd--can take many forms: money and/or material possessions, worldly pleasure, fear, anxiety, apathy, spiritual laziness, and the like. Combine this with a small spiritual stature--the weakening of the will and intellect resulting from sin--and some days it can be almost impossible to see Jesus as He passes by. And make no mistake, He passes by us anew each and every day.
Fortunately, Zacchaeus shows us how to overcome this problem. It is no coincidence that he climbed a tree. Almost certainly there were other objects or structures that Zacchaeus could have scaled in order to see Jesus. No, it had to be a tree, because the tree represents the Cross--both that of Jesus and our own. As Cornelius a Lapide, referencing 1 Corinthians 1:24, explains:
Mystically, the sycamore is the cross of Christ and His doctrine, which to the Gentiles and men of this world is mere folly, but to Zacchæus and the faithful is the wisdom of God, and the power of God.
Like it did for Zacchaeus, climbing a tree--the Cross of Christ--gives us the wisdom of God; the wisdom to see past the crowd in our lives and overcome our small spiritual stature. I've found that routine, constant prayer provides a great boost to climbing. Similarly, offering even the most mundane of daily activities for God's glory seems to keep my eyes open and alert for when Jesus passes by. Sure, such climbing habits may cause us to suffer scorn and rebuke, for just as it was for the Gentiles of Jesus's day, the Cross is folly to many a modern man. Remember though that climbing trees is primarily a children's activity, and that Jesus told us that only those who become like children will enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)
So find a good tree to climb next time you feel the world closing in on you. It will allow you to see Christ, and He will see you in return. And as He called to Zacchaeus, so He calls to us, "come down quickly, for I wish to reside in your heart today." And upon hearing those words, we can humbly descend from our perch, receive Jesus joyfully, and go about the business of announcing that salvation awaits all those who are lost.
God love you.