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Luke 19:1-10 – Jesus Seeks Zacchaeus

Summary

While passing through Jericho, Jesus spots Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, perched in a tree and trying to get a good view of Jesus. After Jesus calls him down and tells him that they are going to his home, Zacchaeus speaks about making financial restitution, and Jesus declares that "salvation has come to this house."

Analysis

Although Zacchaeus appears only in Luke's Gospel, his brief story has attracted a lot of attention. Luke's powerful account connects to the context of the broader Gospel, drawing on many ideas that have already appeared throughout Jesus' ministry. For one thing, Zacchaeus's introduction ("he was a chief tax collector and was rich") leads readers to view him in light of other characters. Previous passages in Luke have lumped "tax collectors" together with "sinners." Jesus has been critical of the wealthy, and a rich ruler has balked at an invitation to follow Jesus (18:18-25). Just as people are wondering, "Who can be saved?" (18:26), Zacchaeus shows up as perhaps a very unlikely candidate.

An important question about this story is what Zacchaeus means by his words in 19:8. The verbs he uses when speaking to Jesus are in the present tense and can be understood as Zacchaeus claiming that he regularly gives to the poor and pays restitution. This would mean that Zacchaeus is defending himself against the accusations of others (19:7) and against a bad reputation that might have led the crowd to bar his view in 19:3. If this is the case, then Zacchaeus's "salvation" involves the restoration of his honor within the community, and that restoration then reminds readers not to look upon the wealthy and automatically assume that they are corrupt or sinful. If, however, Zacchaeus in 19:8 announces that he is at this point in time changing his behavior and moving from corruption to benevolence, then his "salvation" involves a new way of living. He no longer serves his wealth (see 16:13) but generously gives a portion of it away to the poor and victimized. Even such an unlikely candidate for salvation is not beyond the reach of Jesus' efforts to reclaim the lost.

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus and Zacchaeus

19He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

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10 February 2011

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