March 3, 2023: The most hated man in Jericho

Today, we look at a Day 2 text from this year’s summer curriculum, “Holy Trinity, Wholly Love.” 

Reading: Luke 19:1-10

[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’



When Jesus walks into Jericho, who does he greet? A pious pharisee? Nope. A holy priest? Nope. A law-abiding Israelite? Nope.

He looks for Zacchaeus: the most hated man in Jericho.

Why was Zacchaeus so hated? Well, for starters, he was likely not Jewish, but rather a pagan Greek.

Next, he was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, they took your money. Secondly, they took it for the Roman Empire (who were to the Israelites an oppressive gang of thugs). Thirdly, tax collectors were always collecting more than was owed and then pocketing the extra.

Finally, Zacchaeus clearly had bad manners. It doesn’t matter how excited you are: men of good standing in first century Palestine do not run and they definitely don’t climb trees!

To the first century Israelites, Zacchaeus was a repulsive little man.

Zacchaeus does not fit the profile of a faithful person. And yet he’s the most excited person in Jericho to see Jesus. And he’s the person Jesus is most excited to see. Zacchaeus opens his home to Jesus. We never hear if Zacchaeus comes to believe the gospel, but he promises to give away his wealth, so clearly Jesus made an impact. And, by the end of the story, Jesus makes the astounding proclamation that not only is Zacchaeus saved, he is also a son of Abraham (a title reserved only for pious Jews! Definitely not for pagans!).

This reading from Luke is part of Day 2 of our summer camp curriculum and it tells us something important about who Jesus is: Jesus is serious about his mission to seek and save the lost. Jesus does not enter Jericho gladhanding the authorities and buddying up to the pharisees. He goes straight for the most hated man in Jericho: a criminal and an outsider.

To put it in a modern context, if Jesus showed up in the middle of your church service this Sunday, he wouldn’t walk up and greet the pastor. He wouldn’t look for the council president. He wouldn’t sit with the congregation’s matriarch. He would go straight to the depressed businessman who’s been embezzling for years; the drug addict who’s quit more times than she can count; or the unwed single mother who’s too ashamed to admit that she resents her children. Jesus goes to these people because, as Zacchaeus shows us, these people, in their heart of hearts, more than anyone else, long to run straight into the relief of Jesus’ arms. These people, in great suffering, whether they know it or not, exhibit a far deeper faith than anyone else in the congregation. It is in moments of deepest need that our hearts long for Jesus the most, whether our brains can articulate that in words or not.

But Jesus isn’t going to walk into your congregation on Sunday morning. At least, not walked in Jericho 2000 years ago. He’ll walk in when you walk in, incarnate in you. So where will you go on Sunday morning? To the pastor? To the council president? To the matriarch?

Or will you look for the foreign, pagan, thieving tax collector who climbed up in the balcony?

–Jim Vitale



Jesus our brother, you have given yourself freely to a world in pain. Remind us that you do not come to make us more pious but to rescue us from death and despair. Help us to be your hands and feet to those in need.