Following Jesus entails radical, costly obedience, including restitution when we do wrong. The greater the changes and restitution required, the less likely conversion seems. But the “unlikeliness” of it is irrelevant to God; it is “possible with God.” When those who have hurt us turn to the Lord, part of our costly obedience is being ready to forgive and accept.
This passage should be read in light of Luke 18:18-30 contrasting the rich ruler and Zacchaeus. In Luke 18 Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to enter the Kingdom…but what is impossible with man is possible with God.” Tax collectors were Jews who worked for the Roman government and were often corrupt. They were regarded with great disdain as traitors and thieves by other Jews. Running and climbing trees would have both been very undignified for a Middle Eastern man.
Enter the Text
Read the passage out loud.
In pairs, imagine a conversation between Zacchaeus and one of the people he repays four times. How does he explain what he is doing?
Ask and Answering Questions
Describe Zacchaeus. Why does Luke want the reader to know these details?
Why does Zacchaeus run and climb the tree, though it’s very undignified? How did he get so interested in Jesus?
Why does Jesus stop and call out to Zacchaeus?
What is the cultural significance of “staying in your house”?
Who were the “all” in v. 7? Why were they so annoyed?
Why did Zacchaeus offer to give half his money to the poor and repay the people 4x?
How does Zacchaeus’ reaction to Jesus compare to that of the rich young ruler in Luke 18?
Why has “salvation come” in v. 9? What does he mean by “house?”
Why does Jesus say “this man too is a son of Abraham”? What might this do for Zacchaeus’ connection to the greater community?
How does Jesus describe his mission? What is the significance of the images he uses?
Jesus loves someone everyone else hated. A short man who was rich by extortion and worked for the Roman oppressors, shows signs of desperately seeking Jesus: he embarrasses himself by climbing a tree to see him. Jesus says he “must” stop and stay with Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus responds to Jesus by promising restitution to people he’s cheated—a sign of radical obedience. Jesus picking out Zacchaeus to host him while in Jericho is like honoring a Mafia boss. Jesus interprets the encounter to the grumbling crowd as “salvation” (embodied in Jesus) coming to Zacchaeus’ house. Furthermore, Jesus restores Zacchaeus’ identity as a “son of Abraham.” This story encapsulates Jesus’ mission: to seek and to save the lost, restoring them to right relationship with God and God’s people.
Process and Apply
To the people watching this episode it would have been impossible for Zacchaeus to be saved but by the end of the passage we know that the impossible has happened. What people in your life do you think are beyond God’s salvation? Share with a partner why you are tempted to think that, and commit to praying for God to bring about repentance and salvation for them. Think about how you can reach out to them and invite them into God’s salvation.
What about following Jesus right now is costly to you? Where are you being invited to set aside your comforts and ambitions? Name before your Father the costly steps that you are aware of and pray for courage to follow. (Summer plans? leadership responsibility? sacrificial giving?)
“All the people” had a hard time with Jesus honoring this former oppressor of his own people. Zacchaeus knew their complaints were justified. And he acted. How is your faith affecting other people? What are you doing, in response to Jesus’ love for you, to be reconciled to people that you may have offended or hurt? How is Jesus’ love for you causing you to respond with justice to those hurt by society? Share with a partner and pray.