Luke 19: Belong then Believe

I grew up with the thinking that all people respond to God for the first time the same way.  I guess this came from the pattern theology that I grew up with that likes to reduce everything to simplified formulas that are binding on all.  While that is neat and tidy, I don’t tend to believe that anymore.  As I read the Bible, I see people responding to God for the first time in many different ways, often depending on who they are and what has happened and what the situation calls for.  Sure, there are general trends but it isn’t as nicely tied up with a bow as I once thought.

I am drawn today to how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus in this, their first encounter of faith.  He is “very rich” (19:2).  Think back one chapter, to Friday, and the story of the rich young ruler.  Different from that man, Zacchaeus is not told to sell everything he has and follow Jesus.  Yet, the attitude of this tax collector and the rich young ruler are quite different.  That latter went away without change while Zacchaeus is quick to make financial, concrete amends for his life of shaking down his neighbors.

We are never told why Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus.  Is he wanting to follow Jesus as a disciple of this new rabbi who has come to town?  Is he just a bystander wanting to get a glimpse of this man in the news?  Is he drawn to the healings and exorcisms that Jesus brings about?  Is he in need of some healing we are not aware of?  We simply do not know.  He quickly responds ethically, so that might indicate he was responding with faith.

I am struck by how Jesus accepts this tax collector and is willing to dine with him at his house, no insignificant gesture in their time and place as table fellowship connoted unqualified acceptance, even before Zacchaeus has done anything more than climb a tree.  Maybe Jesus is making the first gesture here.

Then Zacchaeus does what can only be described as repentance.  He turns in a very practical way from his life of deceit:

“Look, Master,” he said, “I’m giving half my property to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.” (19:8)

Jesus response is unmistakable:

Today, salvation has come to this house. (19:9)

Zacchaeus has launched off in new, uncharted territory of faith.  He will follow Jesus, not his own conniving.  He will stand for righteousness and even fall over himself to make sure people around him know it.  Jesus seeing this repentance and Zacchaeus receives a new label: “saved.”

Interest ~ Acceptance ~ Repentance ~ Salvation

That is a pretty good flow.  No need to turn that into another pattern.  Not every person will respond this way, but it is a good reminder to us that for many people that we wish to reach in this world — especially those marginalized in society — acceptance from the Body of Christ often has to precede the lifestyle change and submission we wish to see in their lives.  Like many are saying these days, some have to belong before they decide to really believe.

What did you see anew in this chapter?

Categories: Luke | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Luke 19: Belong then Believe

  1. Pat

    Today when I read this in the Message, I saw something new that made me wonder about the tense of the verbs in the original Greek and about the point of the story

    MSG says “Zacchaeus just stood there, a little stunned. He stammered apologetically, “Master, I give away half my income to the poor—and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.”

    To me that sounds like this is his normal practice. If so, could this story be a lesson for the people around Zacchaeus (even a hated tax collector can be a servant of God – so follow his example) instead of just a story about a tax collector who had a change of heart? I do agree that he had a change of heart, but is it simply (that doesn’t imply easy, by the way) that he chose to make his faith known? That would have had serious repercussions in his day in his relationship with the Romans as well as with the Jews.

    I decided to check other translations to compare the verb usage.
    NKJ: Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold

    NIV: 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.”

    Young’s Literal Translation: And Zaccheus having stood, said unto the Lord, `Lo, the half of my goods, sir, I give to the poor, and if of any one anything I did take by false accusation, I give back fourfold.’

    ASV: And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold.

    Well, I cannot really draw any conclusions from these few translations, but I did see something new today in this story that I have known since pre-school or before. Thanks for providing the inspiration to think anew.

    • You point is an interesting one indeed. Your reading makes a lot of sense given the way the Message and the NKJV phrase it. I am away from my Greek NT so I will have to remember to look tomorrow. I suspect, based on the way the ASV phrases it (it is usually the most literal of translations), that it is a simple present tense verb which can imply a whole lot, though usually regular and repeated action. That also supports what you are saying.

      My hangup is the phrase “Today salvation has come to this house.” This seems to imply something new has happened.

      Stay tuned.

    • I must confess my Greek is rusty. Too many years since seminary. Yes, the verbs in this verse are present tense, which can carry a whole lot of meanings including an intention to make something enduringly true from this point forward. I am afraid the Greek doesn’t help.

      I really like The Message, but I must say that Eugene Peterson does take some license with his paraphrasing.

      • Pat

        Yes, I agree with you. I like reading him, however, because it helps me to see “old” stories in a “new” light and forces me to think about them instead of just eyeballing the words.
        Thanks for looking at the Greek.

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  3. In this chapter we see Jesus coming on his own terms, as he always does. If he wants to go to a tax collector’s house, he will. Declare Zaccheaus’s business practices corrupt, he will even if Zaccheaus disagrees. Expect people to take risks for the kingdom (in the parable of the talents), he does. Come on a colt not a strong, mature warhorse. Yep!

    The minute we want Jesus on our terms, we are going to be disappointed.

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