CU4 Zacchaeus

CU4 Zacchaeus

Top Five Scripture

Top Five Scripture Stories


Mark Elliott

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The Text

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of

Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was,

but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a

sycamore fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down

immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed

him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a „sinner.‟ ”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my

possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four

times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son

of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

The Context

Luke’s Gospel

This narrative, found in Luke 19:1-10, is the final story in a long account of Jesus‟ journey to

Jerusalem. The story of Zacchaeus, the rich man, comes immediately after one concerning a


Luke‟s gospel is dated about 75-85 CE so it is later than Mark‟s.

Although Luke makes use of a great deal of Mark‟s material in his gospel, this

narrative is only found in Luke‟s gospel.

Luke presents Jesus‟ message as having a universal note: it was for everyone,

including those marginalized by society like women, the poor and Gentiles and those

sinners despised by the religious leaders, like tax-collectors. These „sinners‟ did not

observe the detail of the Jewish Law, and therefore were believed to be condemned

by God and so ritually unclean and condemned as outcasts.

Luke also includes narratives where Jesus speaks harshly about wealth and

possessions, in contrast to his emphasis on the importance of the poor and their

nearness to God.

Tax Collectors

A Jew who collected taxes for the Roman authorities was considered both a traitor and

ritually unclean before God. So he was a sinner. Taxes were collected on goods and produce

entering or leaving a town. As chief tax collector, Zacchaeus might be head of a group of tax

collectors responsible for custom dues in the area, from goods passing from Perea into

Judaea. This was called tax farming.

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It was the custom to buy the right to collect tax for Rome from Palestine – a sort of

franchise operation. You recovered your money, plus extra in taxes. Corruption and

extortion were common and hence tax collectors were not popular. Jesus‟ action in inviting

himself to stay with Zacchaeus is contrary to what would have been expected of him as a

religious teacher.

Theological Issues


By the time Luke wrote his gospel Christianity had spread through the Roman Empire,

embracing Gentiles as well as Jews. Luke sets the scene for this by emphasising the

universality of the gospel which Jesus proclaimed, which included tax collectors, sinners,

women, foreigners and other „outsiders‟. The Gospel proclaimed the message that everyone

was eligible for citizenship in God‟s Kingdom. Nothing from God‟s point of view would bar a

person from entry, providing that person responded to the invitation, recognising their need

of God. People, who were so self-righteous that they did not see their need of God could cut

themselves off by their blindness, but God‟s offer remained open to everyone. The basis of

this offer was that everyone was God‟s creation and everyone mattered to God because

everyone was part of God‟s plan and needed to be „on board‟.


Jesus‟ teaching about wealth gives pointers rather than a clear code of practice. Wealth

comes with dangers, the chief being that it can become like a god, demanding allegiance

and becoming the main focus of a person‟s life. Jesus said that it was necessary to choose

between serving God or money. Money makes it harder for a person to get their priorities

right and God often takes second place to money. In this encounter, Zacchaeus contrasts

with the rich man Luke 18:18-23 whom Jesus told to sell everything and give to the poor.

Wealth in spiritual matters as opposed to material wealth is a thread running through the

Bible. Spiritual wealth is eternal whereas material wealth is part of this material existence.


'I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance' means: For outcasts like

Zacchaeus, there is the affirmation of the right to belong to the people of God after

repentance. For communities inclined to exclude, there is the challenging reminder of Jesus'

mission and example. For the wealthy, it is the model of what conversion should mean.

Jesus was interested in those in need of God who were ready to change their ways to

restore their relationship with God.


Zacchaeus had everything to keep him from repentance - his wealth, the „hardness of his

heart‟ induced by his unpopularity, his high position. His was a very practical form of

repentance, which prepared him to return to God. In response to Jesus‟ acceptance of him

and willingness to eat with him, he realised his need to repent in order to wipe his slate

clean before God. This repentance was shown in practical terms, which enabled him to have

a new start with God.

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The meaning of discipleship is expressed in Zacchaeus‟ joyful and immediate response. He

took his opportunity, not holding back anything in order to make amends and demonstrate

his repentance and determination to lead a new life. His was complete commitment, shown

through drastic changes to his life-style.

Table Hospitality

Here is a very practical example of how Jesus made contact with those considered „sinners.‟

He took the initiative and invited himself to the sinner‟s house. He broke through social

convention to ensure he made personal contact with the outcast. He made Zacchaeus feel

that he mattered and presumably shared a meal with him.

Interesting Facts

Zacchaeus name means Pure One.

Jesus sets out from Jericho [City of Palms] to Jerusalem about 24km, approximately

4-8 hours all up hill.

Jericho is 230 meters below sea level and Jerusalem 795 metres above. A total climb

of 565 metres. The custom was that you started early morning with rest in the

middle of day.

Zacchaeus Online

(Clipart images of the Zacchaeus story)

(Nine PowerPoint Slide Masters of the Zacchaeus story)

(Tax Collectors section of the Bible History Online website)

(Clipart of Zacchaeus for younger students)


(A very readable commentary on the Zacchaeus story)

(Another very readable commentary on the Zacchaeus story)

(Cartoon story about the Zacchaeus for kids)

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Scripture Connections

Zacchaeus Four Resources Questions


This narrative emphasises two types of community: the local community in which Zacchaeus

lived and the community of God; the kingdom. Zacchaeus‟ behaviour had cut him off from

his fellow citizens. It was selfish and anti-social and he was not popular. But once he was

faced with his real self, in the presence of the love and acceptance of Jesus, he was willing

and able to change.

Why did Jesus‟ method work with Zacchaeus?

Is it possible to have „sinners‟ in a society that does not believe in God?

Why do some people find it so hard to accept those whose lifestyle is so different

from other people‟s and whose standards fall „below‟ what society expects?

What reactions are aroused in society by other people‟s „sinfulness‟ (satisfaction,

superiority, shame, condemnation etc.)? What do you think are the roots of these


What divides our world? Do people care that it is divided?

As well as looking for similarities between people, faiths, and societies, what happens

when difference is not recognised? What are the proper ways of respecting

difference without causing division?

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Modern society, like most societies before it, is immersed in the pursuit of wealth and all the

dangers that that brings with it. People are encouraged to buy more through advertising and

status is given to those who have money. Students need to reflect on the place of money in

life, to increase their awareness of its power and gain a critical approach towards

consumerism and materialism. They should be able to contrast wealth in money terms with

the riches that can be acquired in other ways.

What encourages the belief that money is the key goal in life?

What power can money buy? What temptations does it present?

What dangers are inherent in trusting money?

Why is it said that the problem with money is not money itself but the love of


What measures can be taken to keep money in perspective?

Why is the love of God not compatible with the love of money?


Zacchaeus lost his place in society because of his behaviour. People grumbled about Jesus

for taking notice of such a person. People still today are dismissive of those whose

behaviour doesn‟t meet certain expected standards. There is a great desire to see the sinner

pay the price for the wrongdoing. Reactions can even engender violence and protests. The

media has a field day when this happens. However, throughout the gospels Jesus

emphasises that God‟s way is different and that hating the sin is not the same as hating the


How far does the Church still influence the standards of society and individuals


Who are the people that modern society seems to ostracise?

What encourages the stereotyping of groups of people as „sinners‟?

Why might „self-righteousness‟ be the worst sin? Might self-righteousness be likely to

increase in a society that rejects God?

Is punishment or reform more important for the prisoner?

In what ways are students ostracised in school? How guilty are schools of labelling

students? Do schools provide enough chances and opportunities for students to

change their behaviour?


Zacchaeus‟ sin was cheating people, taking more money in taxes than he should have done.

Cheating appears in many guises and situations and must be one of the commonest forms

of social sin. It shows a lack of concern for the feelings and rights of other people. People

cheat in relationships, sports, business, examinations, homework, false declarations.

Students encounter cheating from an early age, whether it is in a game that they are

playing or in a bag of sweets that someone fails to share out fairly.

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It‟s tied up with justice and fairness, all of which are part of their lives. It is important that

this aspect of life should be exposed to discussion and students allowed to reflect on its

implications for their lives and society in general.

Why is cheating such a common feature in everyday life?

What feelings result from cheating someone and from being cheated?

Why does cheating spoil personal relationships?

In what ways might people cheat themselves?

Can cheating be prevented? If so, how?

Can people cheat on God? In what ways?

How did Jesus make it easy for Zacchaeus to own up to his cheating?

Role models

Perhaps Zacchaeus was in search of something when he hid up the tree to catch a glimpse

of Jesus. Although he had plenty of money, there was a lot missing from his life. When he

met Jesus, he took no time at all in recognising that his real need was not money but a new

way of being. Selfishness had been his guiding principle. Now Jesus replaced that. Jesus can

be presented as someone whom people over 2000 years have admired enough to follow as

an example of how life can be lived. Jesus‟ followers illustrate the human need for

inspiration from someone who can be admired because of the way they lived their life.

Why do people need to follow others? Is it a sign of weakness or courage?

Why has Jesus had such a large following? What aspects of Jesus‟ life might appeal

to people?

How important is it for young pupils to be inspired by the lives of special people?

What concerns might be raised about the type of role-model the media offers young


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