The Gospel of Luke 19:1-10
The Sunday of Zacchaeus
Jesus meets Zacchaeus in Jericho. Jericho was considered a sinful place to live because of all the iniquity that occurred there. Within the Gospel of Luke, up until the reading of Zacchaeus, Jesus imparts lessons to His followers about the distribution of their wealth and entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 18:24-27). In the reading about Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus clearly tells Jesus that he gives generously and freely to the poor and if he owes someone he inadvertently cheated, he restores the debt fourfold. The interesting thing about this conversation between Zacchaeus and Jesus is that Zacchaeus, who some biblical scholars argue was not a Jew, is quoting the Jewish Law as given in Exodus 22:1-14 with the difference being that in Exodus, the Law only required the sinner to repay double the debt, while Zacchaeus restored twice the required amount. This statement was not a boast on the part of Zacchaeus, it was a statement made to Jesus to show that he helped the poor and took restoration of his debts as seriously, and even more seriously, than a son of Abraham (a Jew) was required to do according to the Law. Jesus, upon hearing this, brings salvation to the Gentile, Zacchaeus, based on Zacchaeus actions and belief because, as Jesus states in this passage, His mission was to seek out and offer salvation to those who were lost (Luke 19:1-10).
The other interesting thing is the tree Zacchaeus climbs. A sycamore tree in this area of the world is a type of fig tree that is native to the Middle East and parts of Africa. The leaves and fruit look similar to the common fig but the sycamore fig is smaller, more fragrant and sweeter. During Jesus’ time, the sycamore tree was commonly planted along road sides to provide shade. Fig trees are mentioned throughout theOld Testament with specific mention of the sycamore fig in this scripture reading and also in the Old Testament book of Amos 7:14. Some biblical scholars like to elaborate on Zacchaeus choice of a sycamore fig tree. Zacchaeus (a sinner and tax collector, a Gentile), was bearing fruit like the sycamore fig tree which bears more prolific, smaller and sweeter fruit than the regular fig tree. Therefore, Jesus declared Zacchaeus just as worthy as the sons of Abraham (Jews) to receive the gift of salvation.
References: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vols I, IVa, InterVarsity Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of John, Beholding the Glory, Conciliar Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Good News for the Poor, Conciliar Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Johannine Writings, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press