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March 3, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

 Jesus seems to have healed blind Bartimaeus on his approach to Jericho, and the newly sighted beggar followed Jesus through the city along with the crowd.  The expectation was that Jesus would join the townspeople for a banquet and overnight accommodations.  However, Jesus gave every indication that he would continue on to Jerusalem.

There was another seeker who very much wanted to see Jesus.  He was wealthy, short and generally despised by the population.  Zacchaeus was Rome’s lackey in Jericho, a publican or tax collector.  He knew he would not be allowed to push through the crowds so he ran ahead to the edge of town and climbed a sycamore tree.  Sycamores were big trees.  They were not allowed in the town itself for a series of practical and ceremonial reasons.  Zacchaeus thought he was out of sight, but he was spotted by Jesus.

In order to appreciate this story one must be aware of the setting.  Jesus seems to have simply disregarded the town’s expectations of entertaining him.  Surely a household had been selected and was prepared for an exciting evening with the most famous teacher in Israel.  Zacchaeus’ home was certainly not their choice, but it was the choice of Jesus.  “Zacchaeus make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” The town was scandalized.

It would have been fascinating to have a record of that evening visit of Jesus with the town quisling.  We do not.  It is obvious that the lost was found, and the sinner found forgiveness and turned his life around.  Zacchaeus’ words to Jesus about giving half of his goods to the poor and returning any defrauded taxes at a rate of four to one must be seen as typical Middle Eastern exaggeration in the excitement of the moment.  The promise is biblically sound in terms of the law found in Exodus 22:1.  However, mathematically it would have been impossible unless he Zacchaeus had taken very little in overtaxing.

The next day Jesus was off to Jerusalem.  The Jericho road is about twenty-five miles between Jericho and Jerusalem.  Jerusalem sits on the mountain ridge of Israel at a height of 2450 feet above sea level.  Jericho is an oasis in the rift valley, or the Arabah, and is 1250 feet below sea level.  We are talking about a twenty-five mile hike which requires a climb of 3700 feet.  The territory between Jericho and Jerusalem in called the Judean desert.  It is bleak, waterless, and treacherous, even when keeping on the road which drops off in places into deep ravines.  However, it is the main pilgrimage rout from Galilee to Jerusalem.  This is why it is rarely traveled alone, but in groups.

Jesus and his band would have passed by the desert palace of Herod the Great which he built near Jericho, and piped in water from a nearby oasis.  This may have suggested the setting for the parable of the nobleman who went on a journey to receive a kingdom.  Herod the Great made a trip to Rome in 40 B.C. seeking an appointment as King of the Jews.  Luke records the parable immediately following the Zacchaeus story and prior to the story of Palm Sunday.

Just when Jesus made the trip up to Jerusalem is questionable, but he surely wanted to reach Bethany prior to Friday evening and celebrate the Sabbath with Lazarus and his family.  We will pick up the story here next week.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at