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Zacchaeus

Ordinary 31      Year C

A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
www.hebrewcatholic.org.nz

Click here for a printable copy of this paper

St. Luke 19: 1 — 10

 

Introduction

Those who meditate on the Gospel readings as ordered in the international three-year lectionary, have for about 18 weeks, been studying the so-called “travel narrative of Jesus”. His meandering course led him from his ministry in Galilee (the North) to Jerusalem in the South. The early Church, from the time of St Luke, saw this as a “spiritual journey: St. Luke focussed first on the qualities Jesus demands of his followers, and then on the obstacles they must be prepared to face.

This story about Zacchaeus concludes our current theme of the travel narrative. It is an unusual story with some unexpected lessons and outcomes.

Click here for a printable copy of the text

 

Some Reflections on the Text

Verses 1 and 2

He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.

Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax
collector and also a wealthy man, …..

Jesus entered Jericho which was situated on the main route from Trans-Jordon to Jerusalem. The place was a hive of activity and there were many officials appointed to collect various taxes. One of the senior collectors, or chief tax collectors as they were called, was a man known by the name of Zakkai or Zacchaeus. Evidently he was very wealthy, which usually meant he must have been extraordinarily effective at extracting money and passing on to the Romans what they wanted.

We should note that in the original written text of Luke, verse 2 opens with the words, “And behold there was a man named Zacchaeus…” We are told this denotes that the appearance of Zacchaeus on the scene was rather surprising. The expression is frequently found in the New Testament when something wonderful is about to be narrated. We are, in fact, about to see that the conversion of Zaccaeus is being highlighted as an especially marvellous thing. In other words, the first Christians considered this account a very treasured memory and recounted it with much awe and respect, which has influenced the approach St. Luke adopted in his account.

Verse 3

was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not
see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.

Zacchaeus wanted to see who Jesus was. He had heard a lot about him but had never met him. Hearing the commotion, and realising from the comments of people that it was Jesus who was entering the city on the main road, he decided to make the most of his opportunity. But there was a problem. A lot of people were clustered around Jesus, and Zaccaeus was too short to get a proper view of him.

Many a writer has confessed to having harboured a somewhat slanted view of Zacchaeus as a pathetic, snivelling, whining, inadequate creature; and that their stereotyped image was further reinforced by the fact that, being short, he climbed a sycamore fig tree like an inquisitive little boy to improve his chances of seeing Jesus. Our in-bred perceptions of how people in authority and senior positions should act forbid that a person should climb a tree, even to see our Lord!

Zacchaeus, despite his status and dignity, was determined “to see who Jesus was.” He would not be satisfied with just a quick glance to see what he looked like — anyone, even small children, could manage that. Zacchaeus wanted to watch Jesus; he wanted this so much he forgot who he was, his image, his self-importance, his reputation: everything took second place to a single goal — to be able to look at Jesus without interruption and distraction. Interestingly, Zacchaeus was not fully conscious of this himself.

Verse 4

So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order
to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.

Some writers talk of the curiosity of Zacchaeus. But his action is not just for the purpose of catching a glimpse. He is not curious about appearance, but rather who Jesus is.

Verse 5

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to
him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must
stay at your house.”

Within moments Jesus arrives on the scene. Just as Zacchaeus was not too proud to climb the tree overhanging the road, so our Lord has no hesitation in stopping under it and looking up at Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus face to face, and he is granted his wish: and more!
Our Lord addresses him by name:

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately (i.e. with alacrity) for
I must stay at your house today!”

The Greek construction of the sentence implies that our Lord considered his staying at the home of Zacchaeus as part of his mission.

The Gospels show our Lord accepting many invitations, but this is the only case in which we find him offering himself (uninvited) to share his hospitality.

The early Church made a link between this event and the Book of Revelation: “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him” (Revelation 3: 20)

Later St Augustine wrote:

“He who thought it a great blessing to behold Jesus passing by,
hath, of a sudden, merited to receive him into his house.”

Verse 6

And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

Zacchaeus, in obedience to Jesus, came down from the branch immediately, and welcomed him with overflowing joy. From this very moment, Zacchaeus became a different person. Not fully understanding why he had wanted to look at Jesus, he now realises he had been looking for Jesus.

Verse 7

When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

Such is his excitement that Zacchaeus does not notice the murmurings of some among the crowd: “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner’.” The reference to him as a ‘sinner’ is an indication he is a ‘fallen’ Jew. (C. Gore)

Verse 8

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold,
half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay
it four times over.”

Zacchaeus, now unafraid to speak truthfully, came forward and stood in front of everyone. This is indeed a moment of truth, unlike any other recorded in the Gospels.

He begins his public statement with the word “Behold”, or “Look”, which was a common way to make an emphatic introduction to what follows. “Here and now”, he declares, “I am giving half of my possessions to the poor. If I have defrauded or cheated anyone of anything whatsoever, I will pay them back four times the amount from the half of my estate which I retain.”

Zacchaeus was not waiting till the next day — he responded with great haste — without losing a moment. What is even more staggering is his means of calculation. He could have quoted Scripture very conveniently (Exodus 22: 1 and 4; Numbers 5: 7) and got away with adding one fifth to the value of the fraud since he was owning up to dishonest business. At worst, it might have cost him double. Zacchaeus, on the other hand, chooses to have all his dishonesty classified as breaches of the eighth commandment. He does not capture his audience with grandiose posturing. He simply states, “If I have cheated I will repay four times the value”. In doing so he imposed himself the most severe judgment in plain language and without trying to offer any excuses.

Jesus had already entered the house, when He addressed the following words to Zacchaeus, as well as the crowd.

Verse 9

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to
this house because this man too is a descendant of
Abraham.

Our Lord is just as brief and to the point. “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a descendent of Abraham.”

Although we cannot be certain, it is generally taken that Zacchaeus was a renegade, or as recorded earlier, a ‘fallen’ rather than a practising Jew. Whatever he was, he had betrayed himself as well as his people. The words of Jesus clearly convey that his sins have been forgiven, and that he is fully restored.

There were two reasons why Zacchaeus merited forgiveness and
approval by our Lord; (a) because he was a son of Abraham;
(b) because he was one of the lost sheep of the House of Israel.
As said in Matthew 15: 24, our Lord’s mission during His time
on earth was chiefly to the Jewish people, to reclaim the
“lost sheep of the house of Israel”. (After His Ascension, this
mission of redemption was extended through the Apostles to all
the world.)
      ( The Four Gospels by C. Callan, O. P. Slight modification for Internet use.)

Our Lord is obviously delighted to pronounce his total restoration to his own heritage and culture. His open honesty and magnanimity are in keeping with that of Abraham, father of the Jewish race. He can therefore take pride in now being fully accepted by a people he formerly abused. And this holds good for all of his family as well: salvation came to his house, i.e. his Household, not just to him. This point, alone, is worth pondering.

Verse 10

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what
was lost.”

For the sake of the on-lookers, some of whom are not so sure about all this, Jesus adds a powerful concluding verse which in many ways sums up St. Luke’s Gospel —

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.”

The meaning was perfectly clear to all present. The word “lost” refers to people who had gone astray. The word “save” means to lift them out of their predicament and to restore their relationship with God and their community.

Zacchaeus was a new person after this and early Church documents suggest he lived an intensely devout life as a Christian leader in a community beyond Palestine.

 

Conclusion

Our Lord Jesus had no hesitation providing the grumblers
present at the incident with a magnificent reply. Zacchaeus,
sinner and renegade Jew though he be, has not forfeited his
right to the promise made to Abraham; and in receiving
Jesus into his house, he has welcomed the One in whom the
promise to Abraham is fulfilled.                             (Ginns, O. P.)

Sadler has an interesting and appropriate comment with which to close our meditation:

“We learn from this, that though Zacchaeus seemed to seek
the Lord to see him, yet the Lord was secretly seeking Zacchaeus,
both assisting and fostering the better thoughts which were
taking possession of his soul, and also exciting his innocent
desire so as to bring about His sojourn in his house, which was,
of course, the occasion of much closer intercourse than
Zacchaeus would otherwise have enjoyed.”

Thus Zacchaeus remains for Christians one of the greatest models of repentance and restoration. His example remains a challenge for us, and a tough one at that. But if we pray for one another, there’s a very big chance we’ll make together!

 

Shalom!

Further Reading

For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:

Agape Bible Study — Ordinary 31 ― Year C

If you require only the section on the Gospel reading,
just scroll down the page.

To view all the material on the Agape website please visit:

www.agapebiblestudy.com

This website is highly recommended:

 

Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature

(Mark 16: 15)

The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!

     Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
     so, remain close to Him. The following are only examples illustrating
     how you can note the gems the Holy Spirit highlights for your on-going
     reflection.

Zacchaeus

Sunday Ordinary 31 St. Luke 19: 1 ― 10

1.   The old adage, “Seeing is believing” never quite worked in the case of
our Lord’s ministry. Many saw Him and His amazing works, but they did not
believe. Mere inquisitiveness brought no one close to the Lord. Zacchaeus
wanted to know who Jesus was. This is not curiosity: this is the soul of an
honest person searching for the truth. Our Lord’s own teaching emphasised
that everyone who seeks finds. Here is the model at work for us to follow:
we too have been spotted by the Lord who seeks to stay at our house.

2.   Jesus Messiah performed no special outward wonders to gain the
attention of Zacchaeus. He did something, however quite unique and totally
unexpected. In a tone of urgency He called on Zacchaeus to come down with
alacrity. It is not that the Messiah is in a hurry and can′t wait: rather, the
opportunity to be together is, to Jesus, urgent. Our Lord is here modelling
the way He wants relationships to be established; not casually, with a “take it
or leave it” attitude in the mind of His followers, but in a spirit of loving
concern. This is critical for those who would carry out His mission.

3.   Zacchaeus showed immediately that the warmth and love of Jesus
Messiah meant everything to him. He had found unconsciously, what he had
really been looking for, and he cast off all that would hold him back from
following the Lord: he returned everything he had obtained dishonestly ―
and much more besides. In return he is given the greatest title he could ever
have wished to be bestowed on him by Jesus: “descendant of Abraham”.
Our Lord also uses the moment to express His deepest gratitude and
happiness: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Let us pray for one another to keep up our pursuit of who Jesus really is and
just how urgently He seeks to be made at home in our homes.

 

Shalom!

Click here for a printable copy of these Reflections

 

Luke 19: 1 — 10

Ordinary 31     Year C

NEW AMERICAN BIBLE


1.    1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.

2.    Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector
       and also a wealthy man,

3.    was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him
       because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.

4.    So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
       who was about to pass that way.

5.    When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him,
       “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”

6.    And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

7.    When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has
       gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”

8.    But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of
       my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted
       anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

 9.    2 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house
        because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.

 10.  3 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

1 [1-10] The story of the tax collector Zacchaeus is unique to this gospel. While a rich man ( Luke 19:2), Zacchaeus provides a contrast to the rich man of Luke 18:18-23 who cannot detach himself from his material possessions to become a follower of Jesus. Zacchaeus, according to Luke, exemplifies the proper attitude toward wealth: he promises to give half of his possessions to the poor ( Luke 19:8) and consequently is the recipient of salvation ( Luke 19:9-10).

2 [9] A descendant of Abraham: literally, “a son of Abraham.” The tax collector Zacchaeus, whose repentance is attested by his determination to amend his former ways, shows himself to be a true descendant of Abraham, the true heir to the promises of God in the Old Testament. Underlying Luke’s depiction of Zacchaeus as a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jews ( Luke 1:73; 16:22-31), is his recognition of the central place occupied by Israel in the plan of salvation.

3 [10] This verse sums up for Luke his depiction of the role of Jesus as savior in this gospel.

            Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
edition (c) 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine,
Washington D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner.
All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced
in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

 

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