From the Tree to the Table

Transitions are more important than we give them credit for.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

See? That was weird to put those two sentences back to back. Transitions are important, and without them, we often wonder what happened in the space between where something maybe should have existed but didn’t. I can think of a couple of examples from Scripture that might help to illustrate this:

First, as you conclude the first book in the Bible, Genesis, and turn the page to begin the second, Exodus, you find that there are apparently 400 years that are unaccounted for in the biblical narrative. This is an easy example of wondering what happened in between because as Genesis ends, the people of Jacob’s family have been brought to Egypt almost with great fanfare and excitement. But as you begin Exodus, the excitement has subsided, and dread has taken its place. The same family has grown exponentially, but they are now enslaved by the Egyptians, doing manual labor with harsh treatment. What could have happened to lead to this very different situation? Unfortunately, written records from this time period are few and far between. We can infer, but do not have a lot of material to review and reference.

A second example comes in the transition from the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Malachi, to the first book of the New Testament, Matthew. Another 400 years has passed, but this time we do have at least multiple sources to study and learn from in the apocrypha, as well as external sources from other cultures that help to provide a framework for understanding what takes place during that time period. Nevertheless, we wonder what God’s purposes are during those 400 years. What stories of faithfulness took place in those generations? What could we have learned from examples of faithlessness so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes of the past?

These transitional moments in Scripture highlight our desire for closure, our desire to see the connections from what just took place to what is about to take place. 

Of course, transitions are important for much more than simply our reading of Scripture. Childhood experts will tell you that to create good transitions in a classroom or any environment when teaching or raising children is of the greatest benefit to those very children. Pilots will tell you that to create smooth transitions from takeoff to cruising to landing will make your passengers happy. Marketing and advertising professionals will tell you that to create a seamless transition from the programs into their product advertisements will help you to sell more of your product as opposed to a jarring and difficult transition. And on and on the list could go. 

Transitions are more important than we give them credit for. 

There is a story in the Gospels that causes me to pause and to give serious thought and effort to this idea. Take a moment and read about Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke. Read Luke 19:1-10 here.

There is a moment between verse 5 and 6 where any number of things could have happened. The most ridiculous transition here could possibly have been Zacchaeus remaining in the tree and ignoring Jesus. It wouldn’t have been much of a transition at all, in fact. Another transition could have been that Zacchaeus came down from the tree, hosted Jesus at his home, but didn’t change his life at all in response. But that’s not what happens. The transition from the tree to the table takes place, but it goes beyond that too! Because Zacchaeus takes from his resources (which he has taken from his fellow neighbors and Jewish brothers and sisters as taxation) and gives back abundantly! 

For Zacchaeus, the transition from the tree to the table leads to another transition from tax collector to Jesus follower. It is a transition from faith to hope, too, just as our church is undergoing now. Zacchaues’ understanding of what it means to be faithful is completely reoriented around Jesus, and his life begins to change. But, the lives of the people around him begin to change too, because Zacchaeus gives half of his possessions to the poor, lifting them up in that moment. He gives four times as much back to those who he had cheated through his tax collections. 

Zacchaeus moves from faith to hope. The transition to follower of Jesus from tax collector costs him something, but he makes this change willingly and joyfully. It is my hope that we can learn from his story. That we might always seek to move closer and closer to the heart of God. That we might learn how to be people of faith who bring hope to those beloved creations of God who are in need and who have been overlooked by the way of the world. That we might become the people Jesus has called us to be.