On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus comes to the oasis town of Jericho, a thriving city known for its year-round fruits and vegetables. He has about another 20 miles to go, a full day’s walk. Zacchaeus lives in this crossroads town near what is now Israel’s eastern border, a few miles from the Jordan River. He’s in charge of collecting taxes throughout the region, including trolls for produce and other goods shuttled in or out of the city.
He apparently won the bid to collect taxes from his fellow Jews, agreeing to give Rome the tax it required. Jews hate tax collectors for collaborating with the Roman occupiers and for gouging them with excessive taxes. Gouging is how tax collectors get rich. They keep any tax money above the amount they promise Rome.
Zacchaeus wants to catch a look at the notable visitor, but he can’t see over the crowds. so, he climbs a tree, where Jesus spots him. Calling the well-known official by name, Jesus says, “come down! I must be a guest in your home today” (Luke 19:5).
Instead of avoiding outcasts, Jesus seeks them out-like a rabbi looking for trouble. That’s how most Jews see it. But not Jesus. He says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10).
Many Bible experts say this one sentence sums up the “Gospel of the Outcasts,’ as Luke’s Gospel’s is sometimes called. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem to give up his life, takes an evening in Jericho to say a life.
After his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus become a new person. He vows to give half his money to the poor. And he offers a quadruple payback to anyone he has cheated. The Jewish penalty of restitution for stealing a basic commodity like sheep is “four sheep for each sheep stolen” (Exo 22:1).