Luke 19:1-10 - Taking Jesus Home
Luke 19:1 He 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 sycamore 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.”
Background: Today’s story reminds us of several of the most important themes in Luke’s gospel. Here again we see Jesus choosing and welcoming the outsider and the sinner. We are asked to look once more at the nature of repentance and change of life. We are confronted with a look at the right use of wealth and possessions. And, we also get a clear picture of the passion and power of God’s saving presence in the world. The story picks up from the previous story of the tax collector and the Pharisee and gives a picture of what a penitent sinner might be expected to do after he receives God’s mercy. Indeed it is a look at what any of us might be expected to do when mercy overtakes us.
Tax Collectors: Tax collectors were agents or contract workers who collected taxes for the Roman government. They collected several different kinds of taxes depending on the kind of rule in the particular Jewish province. There were land taxes, poll taxes, import taxes and taxes for the operation of the Temple. It was not uncommon for a Jew to pay 40% or more of his or her income in taxes and religious dues. Their fellow Jews despised tax collectors. They were the only ones who knew the exact tax rates so they often overcharged and pocketed the excess. They were also hated because they were viewed as mercenaries working for the Roman government. They were often used as a stereotype to represent someone who was a garden-variety terrible sinner.
Jericho: This town was about 2 miles south of Old Jericho. Jericho was the gateway to Judea’s eastern trade routes. It was a rich fertile area that was the winter home of Herod the Great. It was a wealthy and important town, known for miles around for its gardens of roses, palm forests and balsam groves. All of this made Jericho one of the great taxation centers of the Roman Empire. His location tell us that Zacchaeus had risen to the top of his profession and was especially despised for it.
Vs. 1 – passing through it – Luke wants us to remember that Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem where the drama of the crucifixion will unfold.
Vs. 2 – chief tax collector – Zacchaeus has many underlings that he supervises.
Vs. 3 – short in stature – Zacchaeus may have been very rich but he was short. Some suggest that this note was understood as symbolizing his inability to see above his own blinders.
Vs 4 – so he ran ahead – this phrase indicates eagerness.
Vs. 5 – hurry and come down – Jesus seems to intuit Zacchaeus’ eagerness and meets it with his own urgency. Come down now! Don’t wait any longer!
Stay at your house today – This was a shocking breach of etiquette! No one ever invited himself to someone’s home. Add to that that nobody had anything to do with tax collectors socially and you’ve got a stunner of a situation here. The belief at the time was that to sit at table with someone was to indicate approval of the person. Could Jesus be approving of this sinner and his actions? For Jesus to eat with Zacchaeus also left him open to claims of ritual defilement. People believed that other people’s sin could leak off on them in some way and render them unfit for worship by association. You can almost feel the emotion and repulsion of the crowd. Who was this rabbi? What in the world did he think he was up to? From the point of view of Luke, it is Jesus’ very approval of Zacchaeus before he repents that leads him to repent and change his life. This is a major theological shift.
Vs 6 – happy to welcome him – could be translated as ‘welcome him joyfully.’ There is no hesitation in Zacchaeus. He is ready to welcome Jesus into his home and do what ever flows from that.
Vs. 8 – Zacchaeus is completely transformed by his interaction with Jesus. Jesus sought him out and initiated a relationship with him. This acceptance led Zacchaeus to realize that he had to make amends for his former life. So in addition to making the amends that are called for by the law in cases of fraud, he says that he will give half of everything he owns to the poor. It is out of his remaining half that he will make restitution. Zacchaeus leaves this encounter with Jesus a significantly less wealthy man in financial terms but having gained the true wealth of the kingdom.
Vs. 9-10 – Jesus uses Zacchaeus’ transformation process to demonstrate both the process of salvation and the purpose of the Son of Man. Acceptance by God leads to honesty about oneself. Honesty about oneself and ones need leads to repentance and change of life. Change of life demonstrates salvation. It is that process of acceptance, waking up, change and transformation that Jesus came to declare and to make possible.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. How do the demands of faith and the desire for wealth come into conflict today?
2. What obstacles can stand in the way of people seeing Jesus today? Where are we experiencing a new reformation?
3. For you to experience the wholeness that you desire, what things need to change?
Are there any amends that you need to make? Think of Zacchaeus as a symbol for a group, or a people who have oppressed others and from whom amends are called for. What groups, what history, what habits or patters of power do you see as needing to make amends in our day? What might that look like?