A Good Word from N.T. Wright

This weekend I am getting spoiled. I am currently in San Francisco attending the Society of Biblical Literature Conference, where religious scholars from all over the world come and share their latest research and insights. After only a day of sessions my brain is already over-loaded with nuggets of theological goodness, so today I’m going to share a simple but sweet perspective that I heard from theologian N.T. Wright.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a forum hosted by another noted theologian, Craig Bartholomew, who began the session with a brief reflection from his quiet time that day. He had been reading the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 which, if you need a refresher, begins this way:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. (v. 1-4)

Dr. Bartholomew went on to share that, upon reading this passage, he had an insight about the task of theology and Biblical scholarship. Within this story there are two obstacles that prevented Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus: The first was his height, and the second was the crowd. Based on this observation, Dr. Bartholomew remarked, “Too often, I am afraid we Biblical scholars are the crowd.”

What a great insight! Like the crowd, scholars have a tendency to focus on Jesus in a manner that actually prevents people from seeing him clearly. All the debates and ivory tower discussions can obscure the unbeliever’s view.

However, N.T. Wright later added to Dr. Bartholomew’s observation with an extra insight. As Dr. Wright stood behind the podium and looked into the audience of Biblical scholars, he drew on the analogy of Zacchaeus with the following exhortation:

“It is our task to plant more sycamore trees.”

So simple, so true, and applicable to us all. It is not only the task of theologians to “plant more sycamore trees” by which a seeking world can better see Jesus, but it is the task of every Christian. Rather than obscure Christ with our squabbles or confine him within the walls of the church, we are to be planters of sycamore trees. We get out of the way and make it as easy as possible for the world to see Jesus as clearly as possible.

The reason I found this insight particularly powerful is the source from which it came. Craig Bartholomew and N.T. Wright are two of the greatest theologians today, so it is encouraging to know that these two men not only have a vibrant relationship with God that fuels their scholarship, but that their reading and interpretation of Scripture is profoundly missional. Both men have a heart for the church that drives their contributions to the field. Although theologians are sometimes construed as being stuffy and out of touch, these men shatter that stereotype.

I am so grateful for the thinkers and leaders who love Jesus and want to see the world love him too. I am thankful for those planters of sycamore trees. And I’m excited to see what the rest of the weekend holds!