Summary: A look at the story of Zaacheaus
The crowd surged toward the road, pushing and shoving to get a better look at the man named Jesus. The city was Jericho and it was wall to wall people, each one of them eager to get a look at the young carpenter from Nazareth that everyone was talking about. It was his first time to this historic city but obviously his reputation had preceded him. The people had come out in mass to see this man who had made the lame to walk and the blind to see, to see the one who could speak and make the winds die down, who could command and see the demons flee.
Not that Jericho was a stranger to the holy and the awesome. It was at Jericho that Rahab the harlot hid the spies of Israel, it was at Jericho that Joshua was commanded to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground, it was Jericho that the people of Israel marched around seven times and when they shouted to God and blew their trumpets it was Jericho that came crashing down. It was going into Jericho that Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, and it was on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho that the good Samaritan came upon the unfortunate traveller who had been robbed and left for dead.
It was a rich city, referred to some as the city of palms, while the Jewish historian Josephus called it “a divine region”. Let’s pull down a map here and take a look at where Jericho was in relation to some places you might be more familiar with.
And so it was through Jericho that Christ came on his last visit to Jerusalem. Jericho which had the largest tax base of any city in Palestine. It was the perfect place for a corrupt little tax collector to live, a corrupt little chief tax collector named Zacchaeus to be exact.
The bible tells us a little bit about Zach in Luke 19:2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.
1) Zach Was A Tax-Collector
Now that doesn’t say a lot but we need to recognise the fact that Zach wasn’t everybody’s favourite person, as a matter of fact Zach wasn’t anybody’s favourite person not even his mother’s..
That may seem more than a little unfair but Zacchaeus was a tax collector and Jericho was a city of great wealth and one of the greatest tax bases in the area, and it was from the wealth and the poverty of the people of Jericho that Zacchaeus amassed his own personal fortune. You have to remember that Palestine was an occupied country under roman rule and so even if the tax collectors weren’t notoriously dishonest they had taken service under the Romans and because of that they were considered both renegades and traitors by their countrymen.
Let’s take a moment now and have everybody visualise Jim Flaherty our illustrious federal Minister of Finance and add to that picture Graham Steele his provincial counterpart ok you got that picture in your mind? Now add to that, the amount of tax you had to pay this year on everything accept the air that you breath, right? Now magnify the distaste you feel for the right honourable Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Steele, multiply that by 8 and you may be close to how the people of Jericho felt about our hero.
The tax concessions were like franchises. The Roman’s assessed the area and what they felt the tax should be, and then they sold the right to collect those taxes to the highest bidder above that amount. The trick being that anything the tax collector collected over the set fee was his cut that was how he paid the bills.
If you think that our tax load is high there were four distinct and separate taxes levied in Palestine at the time. First was the stated tax and that was paid for everyman between 14 and 65 and every woman from the age of 12 to 65 and that was a flat rate that you paid simply for the privilege of being alive. The second was the ground tax, you got it; that was the tax you paid on the ground you lived on regardless of whether you owned, rented or borrowed it. The third tax was income tax and I’m sure I don’t have to explain that to you and the last tax was something which they called duties and it basically taxed everything that hadn’t been taxed up to that point. It paid for the use of roads, harbours, the market etc. For example there was a tax levied on a cart and it was based on a set fee for each wheel as well as for the number and types of animals which pulled it.