21 November [Presentation of the BVM]
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When 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." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus 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." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."
The story of Zacchaeus is unique to Luke, as are also the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Luke always has an eye for what is lost, and he sees even tax collectors in a good light (3:12; 7:29; 15:1; 18:10). Yet the situation is ambiguous, because Luke usually portrays the wealthy in a bad light. How will Zacchaeus be classified, since he was both a tax collector and wealthy?
Zacchaeus was “a chief tax collector,” the essence of tax collector. They were despised by their own people, because the taxes they were extorting from them were going to the occupying forces, the Romans. Men who are vertically challenged are sometimes apt to be very bossy, but there was something in Zacchaeus that remained open and questioning. Jesus responded to it immediately, and they ended up having a meal together. “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said. Zacchaeus was a rich man who had made it through the eye of the needle.
“Today I must stay at your house… today salvation has come to this house.” ‘Today’ is an important word in Luke’s vocabulary (2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 22:37; 24:7, 26, 44), as it must have been, of course, in Jesus’. How is it, then, that Jesus seemed to be satisfied with Zacchaeus’s promises, his ‘tomorrow’. "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." It is interesting that in Greek these verbs are in the present tense. But many scholars (including the translators of this version, the NRSV) see their meaning as future. One scholar argues that a present tense would show Zacchaeus as a boaster, which would not have cut any ice with Jesus. And besides, it would be harder to understand the crowd's hostility if Zacchaeus has already mended his ways. It seems Zacchaeus was talking about what he was going to do. Why did Jesus accept this?
The point is that he was able to see Zacchaeus’s face (and his heart), which we are not able to do. Our first language is body-language: it is a person’s whole demeanour, and not just the words we use. Jesus saw that Zacchaeus was lost, but he also saw that he was open to being found.
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