Excessive Roman taxes were a hot topic in Jesus` day, and tax collectors worked directly for the Roman occupation. There were also no laws protecting hard-working taxpayers. People had to pay large sums to a cruel foreign government, and tax collectors openly added extra amounts for themselves. Moreover, we can see that Zacchaeus tried to find meaning in his life through Jesus. He was eager to know the truth about life. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don`t even customs officers do the same thing? (Matthew 5:46) Zacchaeus was portrayed in the Bible as a sinful tax collector despised by the mob. He was also portrayed as someone who, despite his size and inability to see Jesus, found his way by climbing a plane tree. “Sinner” was an umbrella term for those who violated Moses` morality and commandments. In the social context of meals in ancient times, claiming that Jesus ate with these sinners meant sharing one`s couch. In one of Matthew`s famous swear words against the Pharisees, Jesus claimed that harlots would go to heaven before the Pharisees. Thus, sinners in this office, combined with tax collectors, have always been understood as immoral women.
Prostitution was common in the ancient Mediterranean, and prostitutes in Judea were also known for their work with non-Jewish clients, including Romans. The claim stems from the overall cultural image that all women at a dinner party with men are either slaves (whose morality was considered deficient) or prostitutes. The Gospel of Luke tells us that a man named Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in the Jericho area. Although he was from Judea, Zacchaeus had “sold” himself and become part of the oppressive and despised Roman tax machine. As chief tax collector for the Jericho area, Zacchaeus, a Jew, was an employee of the Roman Empire. Under the Roman system, men bid on these posts and promised to raise a certain amount of money. All they raised beyond that amount was their personal gain. Luke says that Zacchaeus was a rich man, so he had to blackmail the people a lot and encourage his subordinates to do the same. But as we learned in the Gospels, Jesus was always eager to teach lessons to his disciples. And in this Gospel account, Jesus wanted Zacchaeus and all who witnessed this encounter to clearly understand that the forgiveness he was talking about was for everyone, including tax collectors, the so-called “worst sinners.” In other words, thanks to his power, what seemed unthinkable was now possible. The Roman method of collecting taxes in the empire was introduced by the award of public contracts by the aediles (magistrates) and the Roman Senate.
Potential contractors submitted bids and showed how much they could raise in the regions of the provinces. The names of entrepreneurs were rendered in the King James Bible as “tax collectors.” Then, as now, tax collectors were unpopular. There was no government salary, so tax collectors were always seen as skimmers to pay themselves first. Historically, tax collection has been a career that has had a negative reputation. People hated tax collectors because they demanded money from people, and they were also known to charge more than they should. On this basis, the mob`s view of Zacchaeus was really just the social norm about tax collectors and the fact that tax collectors were using their position of power to their own advantage and rendering the people powerless in their position. The main tax collectors were a wealthy group that they must have been. Roman taxes are not paid at the end of a year, but at the beginning.
Taxes paid in advance meant for these major tax collectors that they no longer had a large amount of money. They hired men like Matthew to collect these taxes. A percentage or additional fee would be levied from taxes to cover the cost of hiring men like Matthew and to make a profit for the chief tax collector. If you were a chief tax collector, you always bet against drought, plague, or other natural disasters that could ruin you.