I wonder if Zacchaeus was a person of peace.
Jesus looked up into the tree and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today. (Luke 19:5)”
I wonder why.
There were lots of people in Jericho that day. So many people, in fact, that they boxed Zacchaeus out and forced him to climb a tree.
He wanted to see Jesus.
Something hit me as I read this passage today. My imagination was captured by the phrase when Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house today.” I was reminded of Jesus’ instructions to the seventy in Luke 10:1-12 that, whenever they find a person of peace, they should remain in that house.
The story of Jesus sending the seventy is the first story that takes place after Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).” Bible scholars call the stories between Luke 9:51 and Luke 19:10 the Travel Narrative, because it records the stories and teachings of Jesus that happens as he makes his way to Jerusalem.
The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 is the final story of this section.
That’s when it hit me. I wonder if the sending of the seventy and the story of Zacchaeus are connected?
Is Zacchaeus a person of peace?
It actually makes sense when you think about all the teachings about role reversals and surprises that have occurred during the travel narrative. Jesus has pointed out the great faith of a centurion, had compassion on the widow, and reversed the tables on the rich man and Lazarus, to name a few. He continually challenges people’s prejudices.
Now, he enters Jericho. Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. The people think he is a sinner because he is a tax collector. Of course he is a sinner, what else could a tax collector be, right?
My interpretation of this story depends upon how you translate Luke 19:8, as Zacchaeus makes his proclamation to Jesus. The NRSV says, “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.” This is in the future tense. It makes it sound like a repentance story. It’s like Zacchaeus is so changed by the fact that Jesus notices him that he vows to changes his evil ways. He was a sinner, like they thought, and now he’s going to be a new man.
However, the Greek in this text is in the present tense. The ESV translates it more accurately, ““Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” It makes it sound like Zacchaeus is defending himself against the accusations from the townsfolk, in order to prove that he is doing the right thing.
What if this story is not about an evil tax collector who repents in the presence of Jesus? What if it is a story of Jesus finding the Kingdom of God at work in the life of Zacchaeus, a tax collector, a person of peace, who uses his wealth and power to help the poor and seek justice, and declaring it? What if it is a moment when Jesus challenges the prejudices of the townspeople who are convinced that there could never be a good tax collector?
Back when Jesus sent out the seventy, he instructed them to declare to the town that “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” Why? Because peace has been exchanged in that house.
Now, Jesus looks at this tax collector and declares, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Why? Because Zacchaeus, a person of peace, who has been misunderstood and ostracized from the community, has been declared a son of Abraham and made whole in the community once again.
A Missional Application
One more note. The Luke 10:1-12 passage is the classic text used in Dwelling in the Word and is formational for the Missional Church conversation. Now, in this revised interpretation of the Zacchaeus story, we can see the missional move. God is already present in Jericho and in the life of the chief tax collector. Jesus enters the town and discovers the Kingdom and “must stay in that house.” That is our job in the Missional Church. What is God doing and where is God doing it? When we find it, join it!