A Tree-Climbing Tax Collector

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world. yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26

Teased mercilessly by my taller siblings, I gratefully listened to the story in Sunday School about Zacchaeus, a short man. When he heard that Jesus was coming, he perched above the other spectators in a sycamore tree so he could see above the taller crowd.  Zacchaeus probably thought that no one would see him there, but Jesus looked right at him and said, “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, for today I’m staying at your house” (Luke 19:1-10).

The crowd was probably horrified! Zacchaeus was a tax collector, working for Roman authorities. Tax collectors did not receive a salary, but were allowed to collect as much as they could and keep a share off the top. Needless to say, they added much to the top and the Jewish people despised them as traitors and thieves. They especially hated Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector for the region. Jesus knew his name, so He knew who he was. But Jesus often associated with “sinners” and members of the community considered social outcasts.

The Bible gives few details about the visit, but at some point, Zacchaeus declared he would give half of his possessions to the poor, and where he had defrauded anyone of anything, he would give back four times as much. Jesus responded, “Today salvation has come to this house . . . for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

In the presence of Jesus, Zacchaeus was convicted of his sinful lifestyle. He willingly offered to give up half his possessions and generously repay those he had defrauded—which would probably take much of the rest of his possessions!

Like Zacchaeus, as we come to know Jesus, the things of this world lose their value and we willingly let go of them. What do we have that equals the value of the salvation Jesus brings us?


Read Leviticus 6:5 and Numbers 5:7. Compare what Zacchaeus proposed to do and what the law required.

Read about two other tax collectors in Matthew 9:9 and Luke 18:9-14. What happened to these men?

Read Matthew 16:27 and Mark 10:29-30. How will God reward those who give up worldly wealth or relationships in order to follow the Lord?

Nancy J. Baker

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