Jewish Tax Collectors

This entry is part 135 of 364 in the series Inquiring Minds

In Luke 19 in the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, Jesus talks about salvation and calls him a son of Abraham. Was he a Jew and a son of Abraham before this or did Jesus declare him this as part of his conversion as one of Jesus’ disciples?

This comes from Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was an unusually short man who could not see above the rest of the crowd so he went up into a tree to see Jesus. Jesus called him down and essentially invited himself to his house. Zacchaeus was so pleased that he decided to give back money he had defrauded others and give money to the poor. Jesus declares that salvation has come to his house.

Zacchaeus and all of the tax collectors were Jewish. This means that they were already sons of Abraham. The Romans placed Jews in this lower position of the government because it’s a lot easier to get fellow countrymen to pay their taxes than it is for Roman soldiers to collect taxes.

All a Roman soldier would do is start a riot. But when fellow Jews collected taxes, they were treated better because they were fellow countrymen. Most of them were considered collaborators with the Romans. Aside from this, almost all of these tax collectors took a little bit off the top for themselves. This is one of the reasons Zacchaeus has so much money and is willing to give so much back.

When Jesus declares him a son of Abraham and that salvation has come to his house (Luke 19:10) he acknowledges the heart change shown through Zacchaeus’ actions. Even being a chief tax collector was still a low-level government job in the Roman Empire.

The religious leaders and probably most Jews lumped tax collectors in with sinners They probably saw them as sinners because they took a little off the top and were unpatriotic collaborators with Rome. They would not have seen them as fellow neighbors and countrymen.

Tax collectors were caught in between the Roman government jobs and their fellow kinsman. It wasn’t like today where Americans agree as citizens to pay taxes. We may not agree on the amount of taxes but the Constitution allows the government to collect taxes.

For the Jews, the Romans collecting taxes through their fellow countrymen reminded them that they were not free in their own land. They were subject to Roman rule at this time. When Jesus calls him these things, he is almost restating what was already true.

But now it is more so true because his heart and actions have changed and he has become one of Jesus’ disciples, just like Levi (Matthew), another tax collector who joined the ranks of Jesus’ disciples.

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