Only the Evangelist Luke tells the delightful story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. Zacchaeus was a rich man because Jericho was a fruitful source of income and he was the chief collector of the revenues of that district.
Like the Jews in the Palestine of Jesus time, he has heard much about the out-of-the-ordinary Jewish Rabbi called Jesus. One day he got the news that the itinerant preacher Jesus was passing through his district Jericho with his disciples on his way probably to the Jewish feast at Jerusalem.
Zacchaeus was eager to see Jesus. But he had two problems. He was a short man and a large crowd surrounded Jesus as he made his way through Jericho. But the twin problems of his short stature and the large crowd did not deter Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus. He found a way. He climbed a wayside sycamore tree to see Jesus who was passing that way.
Perched on the tree Zacchaeus did not know that a big surprise awaited him! As Jesus came under the sycamore tree he looked up and called Zacchaeus to come down.
Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today, Jesus said to him.
You can imagine how delighted Zacchaeus was with Jesus offer to stay a day in his house! Zacchaeus hurried down from the sycamore tree and led Jesus to his house with great joy.
But some of the people, especially those who were watching Jesus very critically, were not happy with Jesus going to the house of a tax collector. Jews considered tax collectors public sinners. They were Jews but they served the oppressors, the Romans by collecting revenues for them. So they started grumbling, This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner! (Lk 19, 7)
Whatever the people said about him and Jesus, Zacchaeus did not mind as he was a changed man with the unexpected visit of Jesus to his house. The words and behaviour of Zacchaeus proved that he is a completely changed him.
When Zacchaeus discovered that in Jesus he has a new and wonderful friend he made up his mind to be a new man himself. Luke notes, Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, Listen, sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much. (Lk 19, 8).
Zacchaeus repentance of his past life and his generosity have no bounds. So he has decided not only to give half of his property to the poor but also to pay back four times to anyone whom he may have cheated. His offer is much more than the Jewish law of restitution. According to the books of Leviticus (6, 5) and of Numbers (5, 7) Moses instructions for the people of Israel say, When anyone is unfaithful to the Lord and commits a wrong against someone, he must confess his sin and make full repayment, plus an additional twenty per cent, to the person he has wronged (Num 5, 6-7). Zacchaeus is offering restitution not of 125 per cent as per law but 400 per cent, that is, apart from giving half of his properties to the poor! Zacchaeus did much more than the law demanded!
Jesus love and kindness has indeed conquered Zacchaeus! And Jesus immediately recognizes and appreciates Zacchaeus generosity.
Jesus said to him, Salvation has come to this house today, for this man also, is a descendant of Abraham. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19, 9-10).
People may consider Zacchaeus a publican, a sinner, an outcaste. But for Jesus Zacchaeus, like all other Jews, is a descendant of Abraham.