This article incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897), a publication now in the public domain.
Zacchaeus (Greek Ζακχαῖος, "Zakchaios" Hebrew זכי, which means pure and righteous one. ), according to chapter 19 of the gospel of Luke, was a superintendent of customs; a chief tax-gatherer (Latin: publicanus) at Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). Tax collectors were hated by many of their fellow Jews, who saw them as traitors for working for the Roman Empire.
Because the lucrative production and export of balsam was centered in Jericho, his position would have carried both importance and wealth. In the account, he arrived before the crowd who were later to meet with Jesus, who was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Described as a short man, then Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore fig tree so that he might be able to see Jesus. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up into the branches, addressed Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down, for he intended to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus, a Jew, would sully himself by being a guest of a tax collector.
Moved by the audacity of Jesus's unconditional love and acceptance, Zacchaeus publicly repented of acts of corruption and vowed to make restitution for them, and held a feast at his house.
At Er-riha (Jericho) there is a large, venerable looking square tower, which by tradition is named the House of Zacchaeus.
According to Clement of Alexandria, in his book Stromata, Zaccheus was surnamed Matthias by the apostles, and took the place of Judas Iscariot after Jesus's ascension. The later Apostolic Constitutions identify "Zacchaeus the Publican" as the first bishop of Caesarea (7.46).
Medieval legend identified Zacchaeus with Saint Amadour, and held him to be the founder of the French sanctuary, Rocamadour.
In Eastern Orthodox and Greek-Catholic Churches of Slavic tradition, the Gospel account of Zacchaeus is read on the last Sunday preceding the liturgical preparation for Great Lent, for which reason that Sunday is known as "Zacchaeus Sunday." It is the very first commemoration of a new Paschal cycle. The account was chosen to open the Lenten season because of two exegetical aspects: Jesus' call to Zacchaeus to come down from the tree (symbolizing the divine call to humility), and Zacchaeus' subsequent repentance.
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