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To Seek and Save What Was Lost

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Luke 19:1-10 may as well be one of those personal testimonies that found their way into a gospel. Who knows, perhaps, Zacchaeus, like Levi, may have been one of the talked about conversions in the history of the early Christian community before Luke put it into writing (scholars know that Luke made use of documents as materials for his own gospel). Luke however has placed it within a pronouncement story: he highlights the last words of Jesus: “For the Son of Man has to seek and save what was lost. Luke 19:10.” Thus, when we come to the conclusion of the story of Zacchaeus, the truth hits us: “If you think you’ve found the Lord, remember He has found you first.”

There is more to the story of Zacchaeus, however, than the literary framework that Luke gives us. After all, the author’s main intent is theological. What are the hints that Luke uses to tell us, the readers, to go beyond the “flesh” of the story to its “spirit”?

  1. Zacchaeus has been interested to see Jesus. He is not the only person in the Gospel who seeks Jesus. Even Herod wanted to see Jesus. But Herod never seeks out Jesus, Zacchaeus does. And this is a main difference between wanting to see and actually finding. The sincerity of Zacchaeus in wanting to see the Lord is manifested in his creativity. He not only tries to get near, he even compensates for his lack of height by going up a tree. In the culture of the times, no one who wishes to be seen as respectable climbs a tree. Zacchaeus drops all human respect to see the one he seeks. (Some interpreters would point out that Zacchaeus’s going up a tree is a symbol of his pride. Perhaps it is, but seeing how the Jews valued the appearance of respectability, this moral judgment on Zacchaeus is superfluous.)

  2. The Lord calls Zacchaeus by name. This is surprising since we are not given any indications that Jesus knew this publican though we know that this latter has heard about him and therefore wanted to see him. Jesus calling a publican echoes the call he makes to Levi early on in the Gospel. But instead of saying “Follow me”, he says “Hurry… I want to enter your house.” Jesus entered houses before this, upon invitation (except in the case of Martha and Mary where he was a regular). In this occassion, Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’s house. The house is where one dwells; Jesus wants to enter into the dwelling place of Zacchaeus. Like the fisherman’s boat, the house is a symbol of human security. Even this, the Lord wants to invade. And Zacchaeus who sought the Lord joyfully welcomed this “divine invasion”.
  3. Zacchaeus’ response to the Lord is also a response to those who have considered him lost. There were two groups of people in Jesus’ time who were considered lost as far as salvation is concerned. Prostitutes and publicans. And they are hopelessly lost because they could not enter the temple and have themselves cleansed. The money that they could use for buying the temple sacrifices for ablution are unacceptable because unclean. It is this same money which Zacchaeus offers to give back to the poor and to those he has cheated in response to the privilege of having the Lord invade his house. Isn’t Zacchaeus here doing what the rich young man failed to do — he who from childhood has obeyed the Commandments but who could not give his money to the poor and follow Jesus because he was “very wealthy”?
  4. “Today salvation has come into this house.” So the house that Jesus wanted to invade was Zacchaeus himself! The “Today” that the Lord pronounces corresponds to the “Today” that he uttered when after reading a text from Isaiah, he said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” “Today.” The Jews knew that “Today” is God saving in real time. “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” The Jews understand what that “Today” means. So when Jesus pronounces this “Today” in the case of Zacchaeus, he also meant that at that moment, he is restoring this lost son of Abraham to his place — a place he had denied from himself — in the kingdom of God.

Originally posted 2005-11-15 20:57:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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