Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

The Time of Change

What was the most important choice you made today? Why was it so important?

Look! Today is the only day you have!

How can anyone argue with such an emphatic statement? But like many other such apparent truisms, the call to focus on today can drift off and change into the next piece of momentary wisdom. We all would like to live as if today was the only day that mattered. But few of us do. Reflection over the past and anxiety over the future do not allow us the luxury of living each day on its own terms.

But there are those rare days that do change the course of life. Days when life-changing decisions are made. And many times we don't even know those days will come until they arrive. Those are the days when life is full. Yesterday and tomorrow don't seem to matter.

A small, rich tax collector had such a day, when Jesus came to town.

Popular Translation

2 Once, a man named Zacchaeus lived in Jericho. Zacchaeus got rich collecting taxes for the Romans. Since the Romans conquered the Jews, the people thought Zacchaeus was a traitor. He could also charge people whatever he wanted to, just as long as he gave the Roman officials what they wanted. So, the people hated him as a cheating sinner.

1 One day, Jesus passed through Jericho. 3 Zacchaeus wanted to know who Jesus was. But he couldn't see through the crowd because he was a small man. 4 So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he passed by. 5 When Jesus came to the spot, he looked up. "Zacchaeus! Get down here fast!" Jesus called out. "I need to stay with your family today!" 6 Zacchaeus jumped down and happily greeted Jesus.

7 Everyone who saw what happened began to grumble, "Jesus goes to be the guest of a sinner!"

8 Zacchaeus stood tall so everyone could hear him. "Listen, Lord!" he said to Jesus. "I'm giving half of what I own to the poor. And if I've cheated anyone, I will repay them four times the amount."

9 "The family of Zacchaeus is saved today, because he's really a son of Abraham," Jesus replied. 10 "For the Son of Man came to save people who have lost their way."

This simple story of conversion had the undertow of immediacy. Jesus initiated the moment. When the changed man rose to the moment, Jesus declared his salvation, THAT VERY DAY!

Literal Translation

1 Having entered, HE passed through Jericho. 2 Look! There was a man in name called Zacchaeus. He was the head tax collector and he was rich. 3 He tried to see who Jesus was (among the crowd), but he could not from (the size of) the crowd, because he was short in height. 4 Running ahead before (the crowd), he climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see HIM, because HE was about to pass through that (way). 5 As HE came to the place, looking up, JESUS said to him, "Zacchaeus, climb down (in a hurry)! For, today, I need to stay at your house." 6 He climbed down (in a hurry) and welcomed HIM with joy. 7 Having seen (what happened), everyone grumbled, saying, "He goes (to be the guest) of a sinful man!" 8 Having taken a stand, Zacchaeus said to the LORD, "Look! Half of my possessions I will give to the poor, LORD. If I have cheated anyone of anything, I will repaid four times (its amount)." 9 JESUS said to him, "Today, salvation has come to this house, because (this man) is also a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the ones lost."

19:2 "He was the head tax collector." Either Zacchaeus was in charge of other local tax collectors or he was simply higher in rank over the others. The term "head tax collector" only occurs here in Luke. From a literary point of view, Luke used to term to highlight the depth of the man's dishonorable position and the hatred he endured from the Jewish populace. It is also an interesting counter-image to the man's height in 19:3.

19:5-6 "(in a hurry)" is literally "having hurried." The participle ("having hurried") modifies the main verb ("come down").

"For, today, I need to stay at your house." The word "today" is emphatic. Notice the parallel with 19:9, when Jesus declared Zacchaeus saved "today." Luke implied that an encounter with Jesus was the starting point of salvation.

19:7 "(to be the guest)" is literally "to lodge with." Jesus would enjoy the hospitality of a sinner. The grumbling crowd believed Jesus would possibly be polluted by the man and his sin.

19:8 "Having taken a stand" indicated the man was going to make a public announcement. This is the same word Luke used in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector when the Pharisee took his stand in the Temple to pray (18:11).

19:8 "I will give . . . I will repaid" In the Greek, these verbs are in the present tense. But, because they speak of the man's intention, they were translated in the future.

19:9 "because (this man) is also a son of Abraham" Jesus declared the family of Zacchaeus saved based upon the tax man's desire to see the Lord, the small man's encounter with him, and Zacchaeus' statement of repentance. His pledge to act generously and justly alone would qualify Zacchaeus as a righteous Jew, returning to normal life in the community; this would justify the title "son of Abraham." For Jesus, however, the title "son of Abraham" meant life with God in the Kingdom. Only Jesus, as the Messiah, could confer such a blessing. Zaccheaus' positive reaction to the Lord's invitation established a faith relationship, and opened the door to eternal life.

The story of Zacchaeus is held as one of the most beloved passages in Luke. The little man who stood tall. And became a follower. But the focus of the passages lie elsewhere. In spite of many standard caricatures (dishonorable tax man and the righteous crowd), the details of the narrative pointed to one conclusion Jesus was Lord. Belief in him led to eternal life.

As the gospel opened, Jesus drew closer to Jerusalem. On the outskirts leading away from Jericho, a small man with a large (and questionable) reputation climbed a tree to see Jesus. As the children's translation aside noted, tax collectors were hated by the populace as cheats and traitors. Luke heightened the emotion by giving the title of "head tax collector" to Zacchaeus and compounded the hatred with a mention to the man's wealth. Combining the man's rank and economic status reinforced the public's feeling toward him. Zacchaeus preyed on the people, making himself rich at their expense. In the process, he sold his soul to the enemy Romans. So, the question of Zacchaeus' moral character was justified. People wondered if the man was lost forever.

We can only speculate why a small tax collector might want to see Jesus. But if we look at the themes Luke has laid out in his gospel, we can clearly see why he included the narrative of Zacchaeus and its details. The morally unclean man wanted to see Jesus simply because the traveling preacher represented a chance. And a change. Like the other unclean and questionable characters in Luke, Zacchaeus would provide fertile ground for evangelization, to turn his life around and trust God again.

So the little man climbed a tree (even today, something considered childish), only to beckoned to come down and share hospitality. Forget the rudeness Jesus showed by inviting himself into the Zacchaeus' home. The interplay between Zacchaeus, Jesus, and the crowd revolved around one issue: the worth of the sinner. The crowd rejected the sinner. Zacchaeus took a chance to assert his worth. But Jesus saw beyond the reticence of the crowd and the bravado of the tax man. And peered into the man's heart. Yes, the lost man had great value and was worthy of the Kingdom. Were any of the skeptics in the crowd worthy?

Two sets of the words thread this narrative to its moral: "Look!" and "Today." The word "look" or "behold" referred to Zacchaeus. The word introduced the little rich man [19:2] as a way to flag his moral standing in the community. The word also emphasized Zaccheaus' change of heart, as he responded to the Lord's call. [19:8]. The word emphasized the man's status and his conversion.

The word "today" referred to Jesus. Jesus initiated his encounter with the tax man, stressing the immediacy of the encounter with the word "today." [19:5c] Jesus also confirmed the man's salvation with the word. For, in Luke, the moment of salvation was now, at this moment. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced the fulfillment of scripture before his fellow Nazarenes with the word (Luke 4:21). And, at the end of his earthly life, he confirmed the salvation of the thief on the cross with the word (Luke 23:43). "Today" was not just a time frame of existence. In Luke, it was the time of God's action, as action that could not be delayed. It was an action the Messiah initiated. Today! The time Jesus offered salvation. The time Jesus declared salvation. This was why Jesus is Lord!

Have you ever had moments of immediate change, moments that demanded choice now? Did any of those choices involve faith? What happened?

Look! Today is the only day you have to live! A truism? Yes. But, from the mouth of the Lord, it's the only day we have to say "Yes" to his invitation. The only day that really matters.

Reflect on today. How has the Lord invited you to a more intimate walk this day?