the agitator – Luke’s Jesus 7

19:1-10 – Zaccheus (see text below)

Well-known story, but full of many more nuances than I ever realized.

Luke highlights the complexity of Zaccheus’s public status: he is Jewish, a ruler, a tax-collector, rich and “short” (or perhaps “young”, see Green, Luke, 669-70).

Thus, he is a complex figure: tax-collectors have been responding positively to Jesus elsewhere in Luke, but the rich have not (see ch. 18). Zaccheus breaks the mold, and this seems to be precisely Luke’s point in including the story: “Luke dismisses the usual, stereotypical categories by which one’s status before God is predetermined… In his characterization of Zaccheus, Luke pulls the rug from under every cliché, every formula by which people’s status before God might be calculated.” [Green, 668]

Thus even though Zaccheus is “rich” he is actually among the “poor” that Jesus mentioned in Luke 4: i.e. those on the margins of society, despised by the majority, like the paralytic, the widow, children, and a blind beggar.

V. 3: Zaccheus is on a quest, “seeking” Jesus, to know who he is; but, ironically, Jesus is “seeking” people like Zaccheus (v. 10). His persistence in seeing Jesus is rewarded.

Jesus mentions that it is “necessary” to “stay at your house” and Zaccheus’s “welcome” is a clear reference to hospitality: Jesus wants to have a banquet with Zaccheus to forge a relationship w/ him.

The crowd’s grumbling response, labeling him a “sinner” shows that Jesus’ mission runs counter to cultural norms, and his constant teaching on issues of status and membership among God’s people have clearly fallen on deaf ears. “Sinner” at its core means the crowd thinks of Zaccheus as one who is marginal to their community, one who doesn’t follow their standards.

Before the crowd, Zaccheus announces that he is from this point forward going to change his ways to be in line with the teachings of Jesus, even going beyond them: half his possessions to the poor, and fourfold restitution for those whom he had defrauded (the Torah legislated only 20% restitution, see Number 5:6-7).

“Giving to the poor” for Jesus means giving with no expectation of return (see Luke 6:35-36; 14:12-14), which, in Greco-Roman culture was seen as social suicide: the poor cannot repay you, and identifying with them will reduce your social status. Zaccheus flaunts these social conventions, creating a huge irony:

Zaccheus is a social outcast who puts his possessions in the service of the needy and of justice; the most unlikely person becomes the poster boy of the ethics and generosity of the kingdom!

Jesus’ pronouncement over Zaccheus solidifies this basic point: contrary to all social expectation, Zaccheus is in fact a “child of Abraham” i.e. a member of God’s people, and it is precisely people like him that Jesus came to seek out, vindicate, and display for all to see.

The take away? The gospel upsets our most basic assumptions about who is “in” and who is “out.” We should expect to find God at work in the lives of even the most unlikely of people, especially those who are on the stereotypical “outside” of any religious community.

Luke 19:1-10  1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town.  2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.  3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd.  4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.  5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”  6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.  7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.  8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”  9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.  10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

19:1-10 – Zaccheus

Luke highlights the nuances of Z.’s public status: he is Jewish, a ruler, a tax-collector, rich and “short” (or perhaps “young”, see Green, Luke, 669-70).

Thus, he is a complex figure: tax-collectors have been responding positively to Jesus elsewhere in Luke, but the rich have not (see ch. 18). Z. breaks the mold, and this seems to be precisely Luke’s point in including the story: “Luke dismisses the usual, stereotypical categories by which one’s status before God is predetermined… In his characterization of Zaccheus, Luke pulls the rug from under every cliché, every formula by which people’s status before God might be calculated.” [Green, 668]

Thus even though Z. is “rich” he is actually among the “poor” that Jesus mentioned in Luke 4: i.e. those on the margins of society, despised, disadvantaged, like the paralytic, the widow, children, and a blind beggar.

V. 3: Z. is on a quest, “seeking” Jesus, to know who he is; but, ironically, Jesus is “seeking” people like Z. (v. 10). His persistence in seeing Jesus is rewarded.

Jesus mentions that it is “necessary” to “stay at your house” and Z.’s “welcome” is a clear reference to hospitality: Jesus wants to have a banquet with Z. to forge a relationship w/ him.

The crowd’s grumbling response, labeling him a “sinner” shows that Jesus’ mission runs counter to cultural norms, and he constant teaching on issues of status and membership among God’s people have clearly fallen on deaf ears. “Sinner” at its core means the crowd thinks of Z. as one who is marginal to their community, one who doesn’t follow their standards.

Before the crowd, Z. announces that he is from this point forward going to change his ways to be in line with the teachings of Jesus, even going beyond them: half his possessions to the poor, and fourfold restitution for those whom he had defrauded (the Torah legislated only 20% restitution, see Number 5:6-7).

“Giving to the poor” for Jesus means giving with no expectation of return (see Luke 6:35-36; 14:12-14), which, in Greco-Roman culture was seen as social suicide: the poor cannot repay you, and identifying with them will reduce your social status. Z. flaunts these social conventions, creating a huge irony:

Z. is a social outcast who puts his possessions in the service of the needy and of justice; the most unlikely person becomes the poster boy of the ethics and generosity of the kingdom!

Jesus’ pronouncement over Z. solidifies this basic point: contrary to all social expectation, Z. is in fact a “child of Abraham” i.e. a member of God’s people, and it is precisely people like him that Jesus came to seek out, vindicate, and display for all to see.

The take away? The gospel upsets our most basic assumptions about who is “in” and who is “out.” We should expect to find God at work in the lives of even the most unlikely of people, especially those who are on the stereotypical “outside” of any religious community.

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~ by tmackie on August 20, 2009.

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