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31ST Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 4, 2007 Year: C
Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
For I must stay at your house today
"The whole world before you, O Lord, is like a speck
that tips the scales, and like a drop of morning dew
that falls on the ground. But you are merciful to all,
for you can do all things, and you overlook people's
sins, so that they may repent.
Lord, you love all things that exist, and detest none of
the things that you have made, for you would not have
made anything if you had hated it. How would anything
have endured if you had not willed it? Or how would
anything not called forth by you have been preserved?
You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you
who love the living.
For your immortal spirit is in all things. Therefore you
correct little by little those who trespass, and you
remind and warn them of the things through which they
sin, so that they may be freed from wickedness and put
their trust in you, O Lord." [Wis. 11:22-12:2]
"We always pray for you, asking that our God will make
you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power
every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name
of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in
him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being
gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and
sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed,
either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from
us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already
here." [2 Thess. 1:11-2:2]
"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
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see
Jesus, 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
So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome
Jesus. 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 of him, 'Today salvation has come to
this house, because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham.
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the
lost.' [Lk. 19:1-10]
The story goes that some time ago a
mother punished her 5 year old daughter for wasting a
roll of expensive gold wrapping paper. Money was tight
and she became even more upset when the child used the
gold paper to decorate a box to put under the Christmas
tree. Nevertheless, the little girl brought the gift box
to her mother the next morning and said, "This is for
The mother was embarrassed by her earlier
over reaction, but her anger flared again when she
opened the box and found it was empty. She spoke to her
daughter in a harsh manner. "Don't you know, young lady,
when you give someone a present there's supposed to be
something inside the package?"
The little daughter had tears in her eyes
and said, "Oh, Momma, it's not empty! I blew kisses into
it until it was full."
The mother was crushed. She fell on her knees and put
her arms around her little girl, and she begged her
forgiveness for her thoughtless anger.
An accident took the life of the child
only a short time later, and it is told that the mother
kept that gold box by her bed for all the years of her
life. Whenever she was discouraged or faced difficult
problems, she would open the box and take out an
imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who
had put it there.
In a very real sense, each of us, as
human beings, has been given a golden box filled with
unconditional love and kisses from our children, family,
friends and GOD. There is no more precious possession
anyone could hold.
After all we are tender, sensitive, good
at the bottom of our heart, in spite of our sinfulness…
This event in Luke's Gospel detailing Jesus' ministry on
the road to Jerusalem ends with the story of Zacchaeus.
It sums up several of the themes that Luke has
developed, including who may become disciples and how
discipleship should affect their lives. It concludes
with Jesus the Great Shepherd, seeking and saving the
Passing through Jericho (19:1)
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through." (19:1)
has no plans to stay in Jericho. But it lies on the way
to his final destination - Jerusalem. The words "passing
through" translate the Greek word dierchomai, "go
or travel through."
Zacchaeus, the Wealthy Tax Collector
Luke, the storyteller, first introduces the chief
character, Zacchaeus, and then goes back to Jesus who is
entering the city. This quick shift of scenes helps the
reader get acquainted with Zacchaeus so that the full
significance of the story is appreciated at its climax.
was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax
collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus
was, but being a short man he could not, because of the
crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree
to see him, since Jesus was coming that way." (19:2-4)
meet a small man, too short to see over the crowd. His
name is Zacchaeus, an abbreviation of Zechariah, meaning
"the righteous one" - a big name to live up to.
name is incongruous for Zacchaeus, since he is the chief
tax collector in Jericho, and tax collectors were
notorious for cheating the general public to fatten
their pockets. They would assess a tax, and if the
person refused to pay or called it unfair, Herod's
soldiers would threaten him. Regions of a kingdom would
be divided up into districts, and a tax collector would
become responsible for collecting a certain amount of
tax and passing it up the chain to the government.
Whatever he collected over the amount required was his
to keep. A chief tax collector would employ tax
collectors under him to collect taxes in various parts
of the district.
chief tax collector, Zacchaeus is probably was
responsible for collecting tolls on goods coming into
Judea from Perea , a main trade route. This business
has made him rich. The word for "wealthy" is Greek
plousios, "pertaining to having an abundance of
earthly possessions that exceeds normal experience,
'rich, wealthy.' " But despite his riches, or perhaps
because of them, Zacchaeus is hated by the people. They
see him as a crook and a traitor, who works as a spy for
the Roman oppressors in order to take their money and
give it to the occupation government, and on to Rome.
Zacchaeus is short, wealthy, and hated.
But he is also curious.
He hears that Jesus is coming through town and is
determined to see him. The word "wanted" (NIV) or
"sought" (KJV) is Greek zeteo, "to devote serious
effort to realize one's desire or objective, 'strive
for, aim (at) try to obtain, desire, wish (for).' "
One evidence of his earnestness and purpose is the fact
that he runs ahead to where he knows Jesus will pass.
The words "ran ahead" translate Greek protrecho,
"outrun, run on ahead." He finds a large tree, and
therein establishes a reconnaissance outpost where he
will be able to see Jesus without attracting unwanted
attention. The sycamore-fig tree (Ficus sycomorus)
is a robust evergreen tree that grows to about 40 feet
(12 meters) high, with branches spreading in every
direction. Their many branches make them easy to
climb. It is springtime, and new leaves have appeared
among the old foliage on the tree. Zacchaeus is ready.
Jesus Invites Himself to Dinner (19:5-6)
"When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to
him, 'Zacchaeus come down immediately.
I must stay at your house
today.' So he came down at once and welcomed
him gladly." (19:5-6)
always fascinated when I read this. Jesus is walking
along, mobbed by townspeople. But all of a sudden he
looks up and sees Zacchaeus in the tree above him and
stops. Does he know he'll find Zacchaeus in the tree
that day? We don't know. It wouldn't surprise me. And
more remarkable, he calls Zacchaeus by name. Does he
know Zacchaeus' name ahead of time, or does he pick it
up from angry whispers in the crowd about the man Jesus
was peering up at.
calls out to Zacchaeus by name: "Zacchaeus, come down
immediately. I must stay at your house today." The word
translated "immediately" (NIV) or "make haste" (KJV) is
Greek speudo, "hurry, hasten." Jesus is not
content to make an appointment for later. Now is the
time. The phrase "must stay" (NIV) or "must abide" (KJV)
is interesting. It uses the Greek word dei, "to
be under necessity of happening, 'it is necessary, one
must, one has to,' denoting compulsion of any kind."
"Stay" or "abide" is Greek meno, "remain, stay,"
often in the special sense "live, dwell, lodge."
says he "must" come to dinner! Now! Immediately! We
might think of this as presumptuous and rude. But
Zacchaeus is overjoyed. Here he was, a social outcast
being offered the opportunity to host one of the most
famous men in the country. Of course, he is happy. He
scrambles down the tree and welcomes Jesus. The word
"welcome" is Greek hupodechomai, "to receive
hospitably, 'receive, welcome, entertain as a guest.'
isn't the first prophet to be sent by God to an
individual who would feed him. God tells Elijah the
once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have
commanded a widow in that place to supply you with
food." So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town
gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to
her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a
jar so I may have a drink?" As she was going to get it,
he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." (1
has invited himself for dinner at this man's home. Out
of hunger? No. But because he knows something about the
desire and earnestness in this man's heart. Jesus can
see that he is wealthy. His clothes betray that easily.
Be he can also see the man's longing and his faith.
Jesus has spiritual sight.
had experiences in preaching where I knew without anyone
telling me the people with whom God was working during
the message. Perhaps it could be explained by subtle
body language, but I believe that God was showing me
certain people who he was working with. Now, I haven't
always had this insight - not by any means. But I know
it exists. And I believe that is what Jesus has that day
in Jericho; it accounts for him inviting himself to
Zacchaeus' home for dinner. Elijah's presence is
instrumental in feeding the destitute widow and her son.
Jesus' presence is responsible for providing salvation
and forgiveness to a wealthy man who is starving for
Guest of a Sinner (19:7)
But Jesus' choice of dinner companions didn't make him
popular in Jericho.
the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to
be the guest of a 'sinner.' "(19:7)
word "mutter" is Greek diagogguzo, "complain,
grumble (aloud)." Aren't you glad that Jesus loves
you whether or not others approve? Perhaps the people
are jealous that the honor of Jesus' presence goes to
such an unworthy citizen. And perhaps they think less of
Jesus for associating with people like Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus Repents (19:8)
"But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look,
Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the
poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I
will pay back four times the amount." (19:8)
at Zacchaeus' reaction to the criticism and shame he is
bringing on his guest. First, he stands up, indicating
probably that he had fallen to his knees before Jesus.
Next, he offers to give half his possessions to the
poor. The rich young ruler (who evidently was richer
than Zacchaeus) has trouble disposing of his wealth, but
not Zacchaeus. In one stroke he pledges half his
possessions to help the poor. 50% of one's possessions
goes far beyond the 20% that might be considered
generous by the rabbis. Here is a fledgling disciple
who does not love money, but has his priorities in the
Finally, he offers restitution to any he has wronged -
four times the amount he cheated them. Our English
translation "if I have cheated anybody" might indicate
that Zacchaeus isn't taking responsibility for cheating,
and making it only hypothetical. The verb translated
"cheated" is sukophanteo, which means "to secure
something through intimidation, 'extort.' " This
conditional clause doesn't put in doubt the fact of the
extortion, only its extent. Marshall translates it,
"From whomsoever I have wrongfully exacted
wonderfully refreshing to see such repentance by a man
who realizes that his life must change or it will bring
discredit upon his guest. These days it is common to see
people wearing a cross - the symbol of Jesus' death for
our sins - and be involved with all kinds of sin and
degradation. King David, who committed adultery, murder,
and deceit, was heartbroken when the Prophet Nathan
reminded him, "By doing this you have made the enemies
of the Lord show utter contempt..." (2 Samuel 12:14). It
is so vital to repentance that we recognize, as David
did, that "Against you , and you only, have I sinned and
done what is evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:4). Our sins
against others discredit the God with whom we identify
ourselves, and we owe him a huge apology.
Zacchaeus' acts of repentance were both genuine and
required if he is to remove from Jesus the shame of
associating with him. Isn't it wonderful that Jesus
takes our shame upon himself willingly, waiting, hoping
that we will understand and repent. What grace! What
mercy! Love changes people. Jesus' love changes us. Our
love for others can bring change to them.
Son of Abraham (19:9)
"Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this
house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.' "
Jesus moves to reconcile Zacchaeus with the townspeople
who despise him. They view tax collectors as worse than
infidels, banish them from their synagogues, and disown
them as Jews. But Jesus insists that Zacchaeus has
received salvation (Greek soteria). His actions
evidence repentance, a change of heart. And Jesus
reaffirms that Zacchaeus is indeed a Jew, a son of
Abraham. He calls on the man's neighbors to welcome and
Seeking the Lost (19:10)
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was
final passage of this section of Luke's Gospel contains
Jesus' mission - that of a Shepherd, to seek and to
rescue the lost and straying. It is a servant's role.
There is little glorious about this kind of work. It may
look spectacular in mass meetings where the converted
stream from the stadium seating to a place of repentance
on the infield, but it involves working with slimy
people who have committed grievous sins and whose lives
are both miserable and misery-filled.
people are in our churches, in our neighborhoods, at our
jobs, in our schools - hurting people whose lives are
messed up and who need Jesus' mercy and grace. These
people need our willingness to love them rather than
judge them, our willingness to go out of our way to
extend ourselves in love.
Lessons for Disciples
I see a number of lessons in this story for modern-day
one is beyond redemption and repentance, even those
whom we see as gross sinners. They are all
susceptible to sensing Jesus' love for them.
Love changes people. Acceptance and openness which
were Jesus' modus operendi and must become
disciples must not be overly concerned about
tarnishing our reputation. Yes, we are to be wise
and discrete and avoid the appearance of evil. But
we must not be more concerned about ourselves than
we are for the lost. We need to be willing to take
the shame of their sin upon us, as it were, so that
we might bring Jesus' love to them.
Our Master's mission is active, not passive. He
doesn't wait for people to come to him. He actively
seeks the lost in order to save them.
God can give us both natural and supernatural
insights into people so that we might help them.
Our ministry to others may require a boldness, an
edginess that calls on us to invite ourselves for
dinner if that is what is required.
Disciples of Jesus are no longer enamoured with
money, but with Jesus and his righteousness.
Perhaps you can see some more lessons. In this story I
see Jesus as the Great Shepherd, relentlessly seeking
and relentlessly saving one lost person after another.
And you and I are his assistants, his disciples, his
co-workers. His mission is our mission. His clients are
our clients and His sorrow is our sorrow. And the joy in
Jesus eyes as he watches an enthusiastic, short sinner,
scramble down from a tree and be changed in an instant
into a saint - that joy, too, is ours to share.
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