Summary: How Zacchaeus the tax-collector was saved. Zacchaeus was short and was curious to see Jesus and ended in inviting Jesus to his home.
Jesus and Zacchaeus
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, 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 delivered from sin. Zacchaeus’ occupation had cut him off from his fellow citizens as he was not popular because he was a tax collector.
Luke’s gospel consistently presents Jesus as the Compassionate Saviour – the one who cares for those in need and for those rejected by society. This core theme is presented beautifully in the Zacchaeus account. The account is unique to Luke's Gospel, as are the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son. Luke always portrays tax collectors favourably (3:12; 7:29; 15:1; 18:10).
Tax collectors were Jews who had a contract with the Roman authorities to collect taxes in a particular town or region, and who paid a substantial fee for their franchise. Zacchaeus had probably subcontracted to other Jews the actual collection of taxes. This is how he became the "chief tax collector." His profit is the amount of taxes collected less the franchise fee and salaries of lesser tax collectors and the amount of tax he had to collect.. The system is prone to abuse, because tax collectors collected more than the required amount so that they covered up the extra expenditure and had something to spare. If citizens rebel, Roman soldiers stand ready to back the tax collector (although a tax collector who collects excessive amounts encourages rebellion and risks losing his franchise). The Jews opposed these taxes because they went toward the support of Rome’s secular government and its pagan gods. Nevertheless, they were required to pay the taxes. Jews despise tax collectors as mercenaries and thieves and "sinners" (5:30; 7:34; 15:1).
Zacchaeus would have had only a small circle of friends to include a few minor Roman officials, those in his employ, and people drawn to his wealth. Outside that circle, he would have mostly enemies. His would have had a lonely existence. His wealth only partially compensates for his isolation
Both Levi and Zacchaeus are tax collectors.
Jesus has dinner with both.
The Pharisees criticize Jesus (in the account of Levi) and the crowd grumbles against Jesus (in the account of Zacchaeus).
Levi leaves everything to follow Jesus, and Zacchaeus offers to give half his possessions to the poor and to make restitution to anyone whom he has defrauded.
The call of Levi concludes with Jesus’ words, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The encounter with Zacchaeus concludes with Jesus’ words, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save that which was lost.”
Also when we look into the stories of the rich young ruler and of Zacchaeus we find several parallels/contrasts between the story of Zacchaeus and the rich ruler (18:18-30):
Zacchaeus and the Rich Young Ruler were both wealthy men, and each responded differently to their wealth. One wanted to hoard it, the other was generous after meeting Jesus. These stories stand almost side-by-side in a contrast of character in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in their prayers in the Temple. (Luke 18:9-14). In fact, it is this story of the Pharisee and Publican that introduces the Rich Young Ruler, followed by the story of Zacchaeus. In his prayer, the Pharisee not only describes what he is not but what he is. With seven self-descriptions, the Pharisee seems to be saying that “I am perfect” in contrast, the tax collector humbly says: “ ‘ “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” ’ ” (v. 13).
Could it be that Jesus was foretelling, through this parable, the contrast of the Pharisee known as the Rich Young Ruler, and the Publican known as Zacchaeus?
While the story of the rich ruler ends with Jesus saying, “For it is easier for a camel to enter in through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God,” the story of Zacchaeus ends with Jesus saying, “Today, salvation has come to this house.”