A Jesus Story: The Tax Collector in the Tree

Story: The Tax Collector in the Tree (A Bible Story Adaptation by Kate Christensen-Martin, plus discussion questions)

A long, long time ago, there lived a man named Jesus. You remember him, the guy we’ve talked about before who lived thousands of years ago and taught everyone about love. He lived his life so big and loud that people all over the world to this day still talk about him and his love. Jesus said and did a lot of things that surprised people, things that were considered different or even unheard of. Things like talking to people who no one else would talk to and interrupting important, powerful leaders if he didn’t think they were treating people very well. That’s what Jesus was all about. Love. Jesus was a teacher of love. Everywhere he went and everything he did, he tried his very best to live love and teach love. 

Because Jesus lived his life so big and loud and did things so differently than anyone else, a lot of people followed him and listened to him. He’d travel as far as he could by foot (there were no cars back then, of course) teaching people about how to live big and loud like him, how to love everyone and how to bring change when the way things have always been done isn’t working. 

One day, Jesus was passing through a place called Jericho teaching his message of peace to the crowds of people in the street. A man named Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus and something about what he heard made him so curious that he just had to see Jesus for himself. Zacchaeus knew that the people following Jesus probably wouldn’t want him around. 

You see, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. Paying taxes means that each person gives a little bit of the money they make at work to the government so that the government can do things like build roads and take care of the city. But sometimes tax collectors would force poor people to pay more than they owed so that they could keep some of the money for themselves. Zacchaeus did just that. He got rich by taking money from people who had very little. Meanwhile Jesus walked around taking care of those very people whom Zacchaeus had been stealing from. So you can see how interesting it was that Zacchaeus was so curious about Jesus. Jesus was someone who had very strong words to say about taking care of poor people and how wrong it is to steal from them. Jesus believed that we should all take care of each other and that if you have a lot, you should give to those who have very little. Something in Zacchaeus’ heart made him want to hear Jesus’ words for himself. 

When Zacchaeus arrived to the place where Jesus was teaching that day, he couldn’t see Jesus over the crowd of people around him. And remember, he knew he wouldn’t be welcomed by Jesus’ followers. So instead of joining people on the ground, Zacchaeus walked over to a nearby sycamore tree and climbed up to a branch overlooking the spot where Jesus stood. Perfect, now he could see Jesus just fine and he could hear what Jesus had to say without having to face the crowd of people who didn’t like him. He was hiding. He just wanted to be able to finally know what all the fuss about this Jesus guy was. But hiding didn’t work. Jesus looked right up at Zacchaeus and said, “Zacchaeus, climb down from there. I’m actually coming to your house today.” 

The crowd of people were very upset by this. How could Jesus want to go to the home of someone who had stolen from them? The people believed that Jesus should stay away from a tax collector like Zacchaeus but Jesus didn’t ever stay away from people who did things that weren’t right. In fact, he ran right to them and ate dinner with them. He looked into their eyes and shook their hands and told them that they too were so loved by God. So that’s exactly what Jesus did with Zacchaeus. He went over to his house and had dinner with him and treated him with love, kindness and compassion. And you know what happened next? Zacchaeus decided to change the way he treated people. He said, “I will give half of everything I have to the poor and anyone I’ve stolen from before, I’ll give them back four times the amount I stole.” 

Can you believe that? Not only did Zacchaeus stop stealing from people but he even decided to start taking care of people and making up for the wrong he’d done in the past. People couldn’t believe that Jesus would want to hang out with a thief like Zacchaeus but Jesus was always surprising people. 

The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that people can change. It’s also a reminder that it’s possible to make a big difference by showing love to those who do wrong. We can stand up for what is right and still show love and kindness to those who do wrong. 


Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever climbed a tree to get a better view of something?

2. Do you think it was hard for Jesus to have dinner with Zacchaeus when he knew how much trouble Zacchaeus had caused? 

3. The people who Zacchaeus stole from were very upset with Jesus for hanging out with him, have you ever had someone you love hang out with someone you weren’t very happy with? Maybe someone who treated you wrong? How did that make you feel?

4. Have you ever had to hang out with someone who didn't treat you very well? How did that make you feel?