The cuckoo and the sycamore

A short narrative on a little man

Last week, I preached on the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19, as I have done many times before. On this particular occasion, I decided to introduce people to him through a narrative based around a special tree. Please feel free to take it and use it if it can be helpful in introducing others to this story.


Nobody wanted it there – the Sycamore Fig tree. It never seemed to grow figs anyway, and everyone knew it would just get in the way. That was way back though – when it was just a sapling and someone could have pulled it up if they tried. Now it was old and gnarled and established.Its roots had burrowed under the road and bulged up through the dust – like an unseemly vein pushing up the skin.

The tree was an ugly welt on the surface of the town – just like Zaccheus. Like the roots of the old tree – he had burrowed into their lives, draining all that was good and growing fat in the process. He was rarely seen in public – and hardly ever without a henchman to watch his back.

When he tried to muscle in on the town’s salvation day – nobody wanted him. He was met, instead, by a wall of unyielding backs – like armour plating to keep out an enemy. Every gap closed at his approach – every shoulder pressed to the next as if to deny him even the tiniest glimpse of the good. Even the tree bristled at his approach…but what could it do?

After his undignified climb – he lodged in its branches, like an ugly cuckoo chick in the nest of a dainty songbird. If the tree could have shaken him lose, it would have done so – but it could not. When the maker’s son stood beneath its branches, it dared not move, but stood sentinel-like, a foot soldier at attention before his master. Jesus looked up at Zaccheus (which no one had ever done” and said “I must come to your house today” – and the shame-faced tax collector began to scramble down.

As his feet touched the ground at the foot of the tree, the world went still – as if someone had sucked all the air out of it. Caught in the dappled shadows from the tree – his face was pallid and afraid – like a night creature held up by a hunter in the unaccustomed sunlight. His heart raced at the thought of the teacher coming to his home – and sank at the memory of how he had paid for the food in his larder.  Bullying and intimidation were his bread and butter – and right now he felt like he might choke on them.

Clearing his throat – and looking the crowd in the eye (which he never did) he announced that here and now he would give half of his possessions away. Not only that, he said – but to all those he had cheated he would pay back four times what he had taken. The crowd recoiled in shock, a freak breeze blew the branches to one side and his face caught the full sun. Something changed in Jericho that day – and no-one ever felt the tree was in the way again.


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