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There was no legal authority to prevent tax collectors from overcharging and pocketing the excess. They could get away with it, so they did it and Zacchaeus was chief of the culprits.
Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. He sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him.
When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner."
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:1-10 NKJV, condensed
Up a Tree
It's springtime. The festival of Passover is fast approaching. New leaves are replacing the old ones on the low spreading branches of the sycamore fig trees. Jesus is making his way toward Jerusalem and a life threatening conflict with religious and political authorities in the Judean capitol. It's hot and dusty in the low lying town of Jericho. Jerusalem is a climb of 2500 feet on a winding and dangerously notorious road. It's aptly referred to as "the pilgrim road" and many pilgrims have joined Jesus and the disciples for the sojourn to the Holy City.
On the outskirts of Jericho lived Zacchaeus, a lonely bastard and chief tax collector. He was long on corruption and short on friends, long on greed, short on mercy. His name was a form of a Hebrew word meaning "righteous one"; in reality he was anything but!
Still, Zacchaeus was curious and wanted to watch when Jesus passed by. But he couldn't see over the crowds, neither would anyone allow him to get through and work his way to the front of the line. He was a crook, an enemy of the townspeople, his wealth taken from their pockets.
That's when Zacchaeus did a childlike thing. He ran ahead of the crowd, found just the right sycamore tree and climbed high enough so he could look down on everybody and get a good look at Jesus. You might think his curiosity prevailed over common sense, but he was determined to find a way to thumb his nose at those who wouldn't let him through.
Zacchaeus thought no one would spot him, but just as Jesus approached, he looked up. Mr. Z expected frowns all around, but Jesus grinned as he called his name. "Zacchaeus!" Never had his name sounded so good. "Come down out of that tree. I must have your hospitality today."
People couldn't believe their ears! Zacchaeus was the worst person in town and a most hated and unworthy citizen. And that's the household Jesus chose to honor with his presence! The heck with the good people of Jericho; he'll relax and dine in luxury tonight on an estate purchased with stolen money!
And if you're surprised and think that sounds reckless, just wait till you hear how Zacchaeus responded. Before the evening was over, he announced some mighty big changes. He was going to give half his net worth to the poor! And if he defrauded anybody, we would restore it four times over! Zacchaeus was all smiles and couldn't have been happier, even though his two-step plan of restitution would likely impoverish him. What a contrast to the outstanding young man Jesus had met earlier who refused to part with his wealth and, turning his back on Jesus, went away sadly disappointed.
Zacchaeus grew by leaps and bounds in a few short hours, and his reaction to Jesus spoke volumes. Just like Bartimaeus in the previous story, his eyes were opened, so were his heart and mind. He got a glimpse into the pain and financial hardship he had caused throughout the region. He acknowledged the deceit and dishonesty in his heart, and the disdain and selfishness of his thoughts. Then with the humility of a little child, he made an abrupt U-turn, demonstrating for us what the word repentance means. And he boldly announced he would do whatever he could to make amends for his sins. Salvation had come to this house.
But now another miracle was necessary. That's why Jesus introduced the new Zacchaeus as also a son of Abraham. One who was lost but now is found. The townspeople would also have to stretch and grow for this work of God to find completion. They would need to forgive Zacchaeus and accept him just as they would a brother or sister who returned from a long and difficult journey.
The grumbling and bitterness must stop and give way to the joy and peace of God's grace. Would they keep looking back with animosity or begin looking forward with loving kindness? If salvation is going to come to our homes, it requires that we turn around. It's not only the sinner who needs to repent; the "saints" need it too--not once, but daily.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What does rejection feel like to you?
On the other side of Jericho, a blind beggar had received his sight from the hand of Jesus and everyone joined in praising God. The story of Zacchaeus was just as miraculous, maybe more. But people weren't rejoicing. Why weren't they? Read the text again and note how Zacchaeus is described. Imagine the buzz going through that crowd. What were people saying?
The contrast between Zacchaeus and the nameless young man in Luke 18:18-23 is striking. One had lived a righteous life, yet was sad; the other was a forgiven sinner and very happy. How do you explain that?
Why did Jesus want to visit Zacchaeus at his home? List as many possible reasons as you can think of.Eating with someone in Biblical times, denotes friendship. Was it wise for Jesus to befriend a corrupt Roman collaborator?Would you like it if Jesus invited himself to your house without warning?
If my life were like the story of Zacchaeus, at this moment I would be . . . --Fighting the crowds. --Looking for a tree to climb. --Trying to find out who Jesus is --Welcoming Jesus into my home. --Listening to bystanders call me names. --Doing an about face. --Rejoicing in the goodness of God. --______________________________.
Zacchaeus' life changed suddenly when he met Jesus. Are you able to identify with that? If not, what has your experience been?Why didn't Jesus condemn Zacchaeus for his sins, or punish him in any way.
What is the biggest lesson you learn from the experience of Zacchaeus? Where else in the Gospels have you heard the same theme expressed?
What is the role of the townspeople and what did Jesus expect from them? Describe how love and acceptance change the dynamics of a strained relationship?If you lived in Jericho at the time, how would you have responded to Zacchaeus? <Prev Next>