At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor; and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”Luke 19:1-10 (Lectionary)
Zacchaeus the Chief Tax Collector
Jericho, the “City of Palms,” flourished as a spring oasis in the midst of a barren desert. Situated in the Jordan River Valley, the fertile region flourished with dates, balsam, and other lucrative produce. Important trade routes passed through the prosperous city surrounded by mountains and the Dead Sea. Since affluence spurs taxation, Zacchaeus reaped a fortune as the chief tax collector in his district. Perceived as a mercenary stooge of Roman rulers, however, he alienated his fellow Jews.
Called By Name
Word had circulated in Palestine of a wonderful rabbi who befriended tax collectors and sinners. Miserable from his reviled profession, Zacchaeus longed to meet Jesus of Nazareth. So, pressing his way through a hostile crowd, he strained to see his deliverer, but was too short. With a sudden flash of inspiration, he dashed ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree (sukomorea) to attain a bird’s-eye view. His effort was rewarded when Jesus, with prophetic insight, called him by name. Then the Lord honored Zacchaeus by becoming his guest.
Son of Abraham
Converted, the jubilant prodigal promptly demonstrated his resolve to follow Jesus. “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor; and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over” (Luke 19:8). The tax collector’s restitution recalls the law of Moses in which a thief must repay four sheep for one (Exodus 22:1, RSV). Publicly commending Zacchaeus, Jesus called him a true “son of Abraham” (Ben Avraham)—one who hears and obeys (shama and shamar) God’s voice.
Feast of Joy
The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons all end with the finder rejoicing with magnanimous festivity (Luke 15:1-32). Jesus also called for a celebration upon recovering his lost treasure in a sycamore-fig tree. Responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd, Zacchaeus opened his heart and home to the Lord knocking on his door.
Jesus and Zacchaeus
The chief tax collector pressed through the crowd,
Denigrated, elbowed, spat on, and spurned.
Reeking of lucre rapaciously earned,
The lonely rogue to his only hope turned.
Of his yoke to mammon, he was not proud.
Thus, li’l Zacchaeus shinnied up a tree
Jesus, friend of tax collectors, to see.
Calling his name, his Savior set him free.
“At your house, Zacchaeus, we must rejoice!”
Welcoming Jesus with felicity,
The rich man atoned extravagantly:
Fourfold, adding alms, with humility.
Lost in the wilderness, sheep hear the voice
Of Jesus, their shepherd, for whom they yearn.
Lost coins are restored; prodigals return
To Abba, in whom mercy and love burn.
Listen! The Lord stands at the door and knocks.
Jesus, for hearers, the banquet unlocks.
3 Replies to “Jesus and Zacchaeus”
Dear Gloria, may our Lord always help us to laugh as we seek his mercy because laughter is more serious than tears. Your reflection brings that out for me as I contemplate in my unworthiness God’s saving grace. Thank you, Gloria, for your faith and words of faith.
Laughter shinnies up a tree like Zacchaeus;
Tears soften the hearts of the rebellious.
Fabienne, thank you for your thoughtful reflection. Yes, between infinite being and nothingness lies a gulf of mirth. In his emptiness, Zacchaeus intuitively shinnied up to be grasped by the divine arms of love.