People in Trees

Today’s Reading: Matthew 20:1-16; Luke 19:1-10

Jesus told a parable that I believe we often read over and move on too quickly. I think Jesus knew our humanity enough to know we would battle selfishness and jealousy. We would be quick to respond with a feeling of injustice and cry out, “That’s not fair!” But Jesus wanted to transform the hearts of his disciples and he wants to transform our hearts also.

There once was a landowner who hired workers for his vineyard, agreeing to pay them a normal daily wage. A few hours later, he saw some people standing in the marketplace with nothing to do – no purpose, no plans. He hired them to also work in his vineyard. At noon and then again at 3pm and 5pm, the landowner hired more people from the marketplace, sending them to work in his vineyards.

At the end of the day, the foreman paid the last workers first, giving them each a full day’s wage. When those hired early in the morning came through the line, they also received a full day’s wage. Can you imagine their shock?

“Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.”

The landowner responded, “Friends, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?

Jesus took this opportunity to make a strong statement to all those listening: “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” – (parable found in Matthew 20:1-16)

The injustice in the eyes of the people is that those who spend the majority of their life producing fruit for the Master could end up with the same reward as those who live a long life of sin, accepting late in life the salvation that comes through Jesus. The problem in the church is that too often we focus on how someone has spent a great deal of their life not following Jesus, seeing only the scars of their sins.

Or perhaps we get so caught up in working for God that we no longer see those standing in the marketplace with no purpose, no plan. We pass them by in a hurry to get to the vineyard. We no longer look up to see who is curious about God from the treetops because they do not feel worthy of walking into our fellowship to get to know Christ.

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. – Luke 19:1-2

Although Zacchaeus was a Jew, he worked for Rome collecting taxes from other Jews. The only way a tax collector would gain wealth in this job was to charge Jews a great deal more than he was required to give to Rome. He was dishonest and disloyal, considered a traitor and a cheat.

He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”

Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” – Luke 19:3-10

How often do we walk around the “trees” because we despise the sins of others?
How often do we ignore the “trees” and those who are potentially seeking Jesus?
How often do we give up on others, assuming they are too steeped in sin to repent?


Last week, our family went to Nazarene Youth Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. On Sunday morning, we were challenged by Eric Samuel Timm to see others as Jesus would see them. The Jewish people saw Zacchaeus as wicked but Jesus saw only who Zacchaeus was meant to be. We need to see people differently. We need to see them as Jesus does.

Let’s start looking for people in trees and invite them to the table.

Let’s start looking in the marketplace for those who are standing around with no purpose and no plan.