19 Yeshua entered Yericho and was passing through, 2 when a man named Zakkai appeared who was a chief tax-collector and a wealthy man. 3 He was trying to see who Yeshua was; but, being short, he couldn’t, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed a fig tree in order to see him, for Yeshua was about to pass that way. 5 When he came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zakkai! Hurry! Come down, because I have to stay at your house today!” 6 He climbed down as fast as he could and welcomed Yeshua joyfully. 7 Everyone who saw it began muttering, “He has gone to be the house-guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zakkai stood there and said to the Lord, “Here, Lord, I am giving half of all I own to the poor; and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much.” 9 Yeshua said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, inasmuch as this man too is a son of Avraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.”
Luke has just told a story about a blind beggar who asks Jesus to enable him to see, and who becomes a disciple when he is healed. Now he tells a story about a man who wants to see Jesus and is cured of another sort of blindness.
A chief tax 0fficial was a very important man, who was in the service of the Roman invaders of Judaea. In the view of patriotic Jews he would have been seen as a criminal and collaborator. His wealth would not have gained him any popularity. He is depicted as wanting to see Jesus, perhaps because he’d heard that He associated with tax collectors or because he considered him a celebrity. In order to see Jesus, Luke tells us, he climbed a tree to be above the crowd because he was small. Perhaps Luke is hinting that Zakkai is a small man who wanted to be big.
His prominence in the tree makes him an easy target for Jesus who – doubtless after finding out who this man was – tells him “come down” and invites himself into the man’s house. In effect, Jesus asks this wealthy criminal to open up his citadel to him. At this point in the narrative we should remember the special theology of the “house” in the gospels.I have called this “oikos theology” after the Greek word for a house and provided a lengthy exposition of it which readers can find at: emmock.com oikos. The central point of this theology is the idea of “God’s House,” which of course includes the Temple but in the Gospels is often a house where God comes to rule through Jesus. We should see this moment in the story of Zakkai as the turning point where a house of injustice becomes a house of God.
Greek oikos gives us our word economy (household management), so we should note that the salvation of Zakkai’s house is not simply a matter of trust in Jesus, but involves an utter transformation of his economy: he has to share his wealth and restore money gained by cheating. Oikos also gives us our word ecology (the universe as the house of life), so we should note that here a living being opens himself to others in the same living-space, seeing himself afresh as part of an ecosystem, a shared community of life. The man himself becomes a house of God, open to the Father and his children.
Jesus notes that this reveals Zakkai as a true child of Avraham who was promised by God that his descendants would be a blessing to all people. Luke emphasises, before the story of Jesus’ conflict with the religious authorities, that He was not preaching a new faith, but rather the true fulfilment of Jewish faith. He was working to find and restore the lost children of Avraham.
This is one of Luke’s many masterpieces of storytelling revealing the humour and sanity of Jesus’ mission, the dimensions of wrongness which by which a person is turned in upon himself, and the dimensions of salvation in which every aspect of a person’s life is transformed by God’s goodness. The fundamental initiative for this change comes from Jesus who honours a man who has dishonoured himself by his injustice, by asking to be allowed into his house.