Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Luke 19:1-91NIV New International Version Translations
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 because he was short he could not see over 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.


There are three things to consider when looking at these verses:

Sight is important.  In verses just before these (17:15) , it is the tenth leper’s recognition that he has been healed that causes the leper to alter his course . In the passage immediately before this one, a blind man receives sight and, responses by following Jesus and glorifying God. We now meet Zacchaeus who is not only a tax collector but the chief tax collector. This tells us he was no doubt a wealthy man.  Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, but he is short and climbs a nearby tree. As he is trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus, Jesus looks up, calls him down, and extends an honor to him by coming to stay at his home.

A second detail is wealth. Luke, more than any other apostle, is consistently concerned about matters of wealth and the treatment of the poor. In the previous chapter a rich man, when asked to give away all he had, leaves Jesus in sadness. The rich man cannot bring himself to abandon any of this wealth.  Most people in this time period believed wealth a sign of God’s favor. Jesus, however, declares that it is nearly impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.  In this story another rich man receives Jesus with joy and promises to give half of his wealth to the poor and promises to restore fourfold any amount he may have defrauded. Jesus announces that the impossible has now happened as “salvation has come to this house” (19:9).

Zacchaeus is physically and morally short. His neighbors despised him. This is seen in their reaction when Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. People were often outraged by Jesus’ behavior.  One example is when Simon’s reacted to the fact that Jesus would allow a woman all know to have a poor reputation to wash his feet with her tears (7:39) or the reaction of the Pharisees to the sinners and tax collectors who love to listen to Jesus (15:1-2).

So what does all of this mean? Jesus honors Zacchaeus, which prompts his changed behavior, which Jesus then acknowledges. Therefore, one could conclude that repentance must preceed forgiveness. The presence of Jesus in any way into our lives will bring unimagined things can happen. For example, even a wealthy tax collector might give away half his wealth. We can also draw a conclusion that repentance must include matters of the wallet as well as the heart. The concept of restitution is clear in this story.

Notice that Jesus calls to this chief tax collector by name. “Zacchaeus, come down; for I must stay at your house today.” There is both intentionality and urgency in Jesus’ words. Jesus often takes sides with those considered down and out, not typically those who have it all in the eyes of the world. Zacchaeus is rich, but he is despised by his neighbors, viewed as nothing, or even worse than nothing. Jesus singles him out but we are not told why. Yet by seeing him, calling him, staying with him, and blessing him, Jesus shows us all that even this chief tax collector, is a child of Abraham and a child of God.

Zacchaeus serves as yet further evidence of the possibilities of change that comes when Jesus is presence. So far, the story is hard to believe. A chief tax collector wants to see Jesus; Jesus wants to stay in his home; we see a sinner become overwhelmed with generosity; and Jesus would declare not just him but his whole household saved.  Yet just a few verses earlier Jesus declared that it is nearly impossible for the wealthy to be saved. Zacchaeus may be one more example of the impossible that Jesus embodies and regularly provides.

Zacchaeus simply desires to see Jesus and feel the joy in His presence. It is no different that the feelings each person should have when they are searching for God. Zacchaeus cannot see Jesus because he is too short, both physically and morally. The crowds, society, impede his sight. Yet this rich chief tax collector is so desperate to see Jesus, he will not be deterred and even humiliates himself by climbing a tree. The lesson for us is that when we have a burning desire to see Jesus, He will see us first and our joy will be made complete.

Items for Discussion

  • We often shun those who are different, dirty, or whom we have been told are “bad” in some way. What does this story in Luke tell us about how we are to behave?
  • Who are today’s crowds and how do they impede our sight of Jesus?
  • Should we care that Zacchaeus only makes promises before he receives his salvation from Jesus? Was that fair?
  • Why should restitution be a part of repentance?
  • Who gets the benefits from Zacchaeus’ changed behavior?
  • Sight is important: Where do we see Jesus in the CHURCH?
  • How do strangers, visitors see Jesus in the CHURCH?
  • How do you interpret Jesus’ comment: “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham?”

Discussion Challenge

  • What heights will you climb to catch sight of Jesus?