Following the telling of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, Luke recounts a scene in which there is an issue with people bringing their babies for Jesus to touch them. Some did not appreciate this, “and began to scold those who brought them” (18:15b). However, “Jesus called for the children, saying, ‘Let the little children come to Me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’” (18:16-17)
Now how could this possibly relate to Zacchaeus? Because Zacchaeus was said to be short (19:3) should one equate that with being a child? Of course not. Rather, one must look at the fact that he wanted to “get a look at Jesus” (19:3a), but because he was short “he could not see over the crowd, So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him” (19:4a). Quite simply, men did not climb trees. In an honor and shame culture, climbing trees was not dignified---it was considered to be a shameful activity for a man. Such things were left to children. So in climbing the tree, Zacchaeus attempts to come to come close to Jesus by acting like a child. In addition to that, it is possible to tie in the story of the healing of the blind beggar, who most certainly, like Zacchaeus, wanted nothing more than to get a look at Jesus. Luke indeed is a skilled constructor of narrative.
Returning again to the eighteenth chapter of Luke, Luke reports that “a certain ruler” came to Jesus and “asked Him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” (18:18) Rather than get sidetracked into a dissertation about the point of the question and Jesus’ initial response to it, it is best to skip down a few lines and hear Jesus tell this man to “Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor” (18:22b). What is it that is heard from Zacchaeus? “Lord, half of my possessions I now give to the poor” (19:8b). Now, that doesn’t sound like he is selling all that he has and giving the money to the poor---it sounds like he is committing to giving half his possessions to the poor. However, the follow-on statement, which was “and if I have cheated anyone of anything, I am paying back four times as much” (19:8c), is likely going to require him to dispose of the remaining half of his possessions.
In chapter eighteen Luke records that “when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was extremely wealthy. When Jesus noticed this, he said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!’” (18:23-24) Hard? Yes. Impossible? No. Jesus says “What is impossible for mere humans is possible for God” (18:27). To prove that this is the case, Luke offers the story of Zacchaeus giving away all that he had, entering the kingdom of the Creator God as a “son of Abraham.” By the way, the man that came to Jesus in chapter eighteen was said to be a “ruler.” Zacchaeus was also something of a “ruler,” being a chief tax collector.
Lastly, it is with interest to note that rather than simply indicating that Zacchaeus has entered into the kingdom of Israel’s God (acceded to Jesus’ kingdom principles) by his actions, Jesus refers to him as a son of Abraham. Why make this type of statement? Well, any mention of Abraham is bound to call to mind the Creator God’s first words to Abraham, in which the man that was then named Abram was told that he was going to exemplify divine blessing. It would certainly not be a stretch to say that Zacchaeus, by giving in the manner that he proposed, was going to exemplify divine blessing. In so doing then, he would truly become a son of Abraham.
That exemplification of divine blessing has been spelled out, to some extent, by Jesus, a bit earlier in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus can be heard to say “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (6:20b-21). Certainly Zacchaeus’ actions blessed the poor and brought a measure of satisfaction to the hungry, whereas those whom he had cheated, who had no doubt wept as they slipped further and further into mounting and perhaps insurmountable debt, who perhaps came to find themselves in a position in which they were unable to feed themselves and their families and forced to consider lives of slavery because of that debt, were comforted with a joy that resulted in laughter at the four-fold reparation.