Living the Good News in the Gospel of Luke
Study 8

The example of Zacchaeus
Luke 19:1-10

More than the other Gospel writers, Luke has recorded sayings of Jesus which emphasize giving to the poor and the danger of riches. Already before Jesus’ birth, Mary praises God because “he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away” (1:53). Besides the story of the rich young ruler (18:18-30), warning against riches (8:14; 9:25) and condemnation of scribes who prey on widows (20:45-47) which he shares with other Gospels, Luke has a number of parables and sayings on possessions and the rich which are unique. He has the woes on the rich in contrast to blessings on the poor (6:24-26), the parable of the rich fool (12:13-21), advice to invite the poor to one’s banquet rather than the rich (14:12-14), a call for renunciation of possessions (14:33), parable of the unjust steward (16:1-9), and the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus (16:19-31). Generally, the rich are seen in a bad light, but this is not the case in this story of Zacchaeus, which is also unique to Luke’s Gospel.

Note also the stories leading up to this one—the contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee and the despised tax collector (18:9-14), the rich young ruler whose riches prevented him from receiving the Kingdom like a child (18:15-30), the blind man who receives his sight (18:35-43).

Read Luke 19:1-5.

1. What comparisons can you draw between Zacchaeus and the characters in the previous chapter? What parallels do you see with the call of another tax collector, Levi in 5:27-32? What do you know about the status of tax collectors in Jewish society at that time?

2. Why do you think Jesus chose Zacchaeus out of the crowd?

Read Luke 19:6-10.
Zacchaeus received Jesus into his house “rejoicing.”

3. Check out the significance of this word in 2:10; 6:23; 15:5, 7, 9, 10, 32. Who are the “grumblers” in v. 7? On what basis is Zacchaeus regarded by them as a “sinner”? See 5:30-32; 7:34, 37-39; 15:1-2, 7, 10; 18:13.

The popular suspicion, encouraged by the Pharisees, was that tax collectors did not live by the covenant law and took more in taxes in order to enrich themselves. Besides, they were seen as collaborators with the enemy. Some rabbis put tax collectors in the same category as murderers and robbers, maintained that their presence in someone’s house rendered it unclean, and denied them civil rights.

In v. 8 Zacchaeus confronts these unstated accusations by asserting that he does far more than the law required by giving half of his possessions to the poor and making four-fold restitution (cf. Exodus 22:1) if he ever defrauded anyone. Rabbis at that time only required a two-fold restitution. In doing this he was carrying out what Jesus had called his disciples to practise. See 6:30-31, 38; 12:32-34; 16:9.

Note that Zacchaeus was characterized as “chief tax collector” and as “rich” in v.2.

4. What is Jesus teaching us in this story about the use of labels?

5. What label does Jesus give Zacchaeus in v. 9? Why? Consider these references: 3:8; 13:16, 28; 16:22-30; Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-4.

6. What does the label, Son of man, which Jesus applies to himself mean for us? (See the discussion of that designation in Study 2)

Note that Jesus states the mission of gathering into the Kingdom as being “to seek and to save the lost.” Compare the use of the term “the lost” with 15:4, 6, 9, 24, 32. How is Zacchaeus one of the lost?

7. What implications does this have for us? For our reaching out to others?

Remember, it is the Word of God which has brought us into the Kingdom to know the Father’s love. Just let that Word speak through you!