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"By leaves we live"


Patrick Geddes was arguably a man ahead of his time. Born in Ballater in 1854, he was a man of many talents and interests who worked as a town planner but could also legitimately be described as a sociologist, ecologist and economist.


What we read here in this photograph could have been written for today and may strike chords with people who have discovered or rediscovered the wonders of the natural world because of the lockdown.

His thinking led me to the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke chapter 19, verses 1-10). Here was a man who had indeed lived by the jingling of the coins he legitimately and deceitfully collected.

Luke tells us that, in order to “see who Jesus was”, he climbed a tree because he was “small of stature”.

I wonder though whether there was another advantage to be gained: namely that the leaves would help to conceal Zacchaeus. Tax collectors were unpopular with the local Jewish population because they worked for the Roman occupiers. If the people in Jericho that day were ardent followers of the man from Nazareth, then they would not want to see him wasting his time, as they would interpret it, with a tax gatherer.

On the way into Jericho, a blind beggar had shouted out to Jesus for help. Rather than bringing him to the Lord, like the four men who once lowered their paralysed friend through a roof in order to obtain healing from Jesus, the crowd turned on the blind man, telling him to hold his tongue (Luke chapter 18, verses 35-43).

If we have the same crowd here, then they are not particularly sympathetic to anyone different from themselves. Oh yes, they praise God for the miracle of the beggar’s restoration of sight, but are their hearts melted and changed? I would doubt it.

Zacchaeus wants to “see” Jesus – but surely there’s more to it than that. He is like any person today who has plenty of money and yet feels that something is missing from his life. To borrow Sir Patrick’s words, Zacchaeus is realising that his harvests are far from full. Maybe, he thinks, this Teacher from Nazareth will be the one who can transform his life.


He is obviously not a stupid man, being a tax collector, and he is also arguably a wily man. So he knows the general populace will not welcome his approach to Jesus. So he climbs a tree and conceals himself, so that he can check out the lie of the land.

Imagine his astonishment when he is addressed by Jesus by name, and yet that is exactly what can happen even today: we meet the Lord when we are least expecting him.


Let’s pray that, like Zacchaeus, we respond with gratitude and humility and a new-found resolve to follow him faithfully, giving generously to others as much as we are able, and maybe even sacrificially.

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