From One Tree to Another

A monologue from the perspective of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, based on the story in Luke 19 v 1-10 and a bit of dramatic license on my part. It is largely based on some material I wrote for a show entitled "I Witness" performed in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in 2003 by New Irish Arts.

I almost didn’t meet him… First because as you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the biggest person around, and there were so many others trying to get a glimpse of him… But also because he was on his last journey south… Even though we didn’t know it at the time…
But I had heard so much about him… Stories told about him and by him... Right from the time he actually invited one of my sort, Levi the son of Alphaeus, to be one of his followers… Word of that quickly got out and about. Apparently the holy rollers didn’t like it and complained about him mixing with Levi and his friends… You see, people look down on me not just because I’m short… you get used to that… But people look down on me and my kind morally as well as physically… As traitors and sinners…
But not him… Actually, you could say that when we first me he actually looked up to me…
But anyway… I was intrigued by his stories. He seemed to be talking about riches and poverty a lot… Stories about rich men being thrown on to the rubbish fires in the Gehom valley while beggars rest on Abraham’s bosom… About riches kept safe from thieves and moths in heaven… and rich men trying to get into heaven by riding through the eye of a needle on the back of a camel or something like that… And I have to say those stories started to get at me… because, let’s be frank… I’m worth a shekel or two… But it certainly hadn’t made me happy…
So when word came that he was coming through Jericho, my home town, I was determined to get to see him, and maybe hear him, if not actually meet him.
But I knew that was going to be difficult… Because I wasn’t the only one, and, when you are my height, crowds are a bit of a problem, especially given that no-one is particularly inclined to let you through to the front… So I for the first time since I was a kid I shinned up a tree to get a better view…
I only wanted to see him… I didn’t expect him to see me… Someone must have pointed me out, because he stopped right underneath my perch and said “Zacchaeus, come down, immediately… For I must stay at your house today…” Me? My house? I nearly fell out of the tree in my haste to get down…
I knew what people would be saying… so straight up I promised to change my ways… to give half of all my possessions away and to pay back four times anything I had cheated… So what if it bankrupted me… I didn’t care… I had changed… I was prepared to give up anything to follow him through the eye of that needle he had talked about… Or wherever he went…
Wherever he went… Little was I to know where that would be… At first the journey to Jerusalem seemed like a victory parade… Especially that last Sunday with people waving palm leaves like flags and laying out their clothes in front of him like some kind of red carpet…
But what a difference a week makes… Friday brought another procession… another crowd, this time escorting him back out of the city… No palm leaves and praises this time. Again because of my height I couldn’t see much… Until we got outside the walls and they hoisted him up on the scaffold, between two other criminals. And as I looked up at him, he looked down at me and I thought again of our first meeting. Our places reversed. I had chosen to climb that sycamore tree of my own free will… but what about him and that sick parody of a tree? Had he chosen to be there? And if so, why? Why him up there? Why not me? Or anyone else? Surely anyone deserved that punishment more than he did?

David A. Campton © November 2007

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