Zacchaeus: what we miss

This coming Sunday is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. The gospel reading is the encounter in Jericho with the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus. A long section of the Gospel of Luke is passed over as we move from the 30th to the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C:

  • 18:15-17    The Little Children
  • 18:18-25    The Rich Ruler
  • 18:26-30    The Demands of Discipleship
  • 18:31-34    The Third Passion Prediction
  • 18:35-43    The Blind Beggar

For many weeks the Sunday gospels have been accounts that are unique to Luke.  At the beginning of his narrative of the journey to Jerusalem (9:51), Luke departed from the outline of Mark and began introducing material from sources either personal or common to Matthew and himself. At this point Luke begins to follow Mark again. The paragraphs below provide a very brief description of these passages:

18:15–17 Jesus and the Little Children. Luke uses these verses along with the story of the rich man as an illustrative sequel to the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The tax collector has the attitude of a child, defenseless and expectant, while the Pharisee is like the rich man (vv. 18–25), not yet ready to give up control over himself.

The disciples are infected with the attitudes of the Pharisee and the rich man. They have no regard for children, perhaps seeing them as non-persons since they were not able to contribute to the family or earn their way. In their view, Jesus is wasting his time on these children who are unable to comprehend the great work he is about. He startles the disciples by saying that the reign of God belongs precisely to such children. As well, the disciples are to learn that those in positions of power or authority must never hinder the weak, outcast, or stranger from the Kingdom of God.

18:18–25 Jesus and the Rich Ruler. This account seems to be intended to be read as having the same setting as the encounter with the Little Children. Perhaps the Rich Ruler is asking that if the Kingdom is meant for “them” then what awaits a ruler? … and what must I do to inherit eternal life? (18:18). This is the same question as posed by the lawyer in 10:25 – and Jesus’ answer is the same, pointing the questioner to the Law and its demands – in other words, the simple answer that any child would know. In a way it is taken as a demeaning answer and elicits a response that suggests a tone of “this is all you can offer?”

Jesus does not draw the man into a closer relationship immediately. But when he hears a wish to go further, Jesus offers him his own way of life (see 9:57–58). The ruler cannot take the step because of his wealth, so often a threat to life in the kingdom (14:33; 16:13). He seems to know deep down that Jesus has spoken the word he needs to hear, but he is too enslaved by his possessions to follow it through. This provokes Jesus’ memorable remark about the camel and the needle’s eye. Semitic exaggeration is used, not to deny the possibility of salvation for the rich, but to imprint indelibly in his hearers’ minds the sinister influence that riches can be even on those sincerely desiring the reign of God.

18:26–34 The demands of discipleship. Jesus’ listeners are shocked by his warning to the wealthy. They would have thought that prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing because of a person’s goodness (Prov 10:3, 22). Jesus does not retract the harshness but enunciates the important principle that God is willing and able to save all who call out to him. Peter notes that the disciples have done what the rich ruler could not do, and asks in a rather clueless  (cautious?) manner about the reward. Jesus promises an “overabundant return,” without specifying his meaning and speaks again of the priority of kingdom over family (see 14:26).

18:31-34 The Third Passion Prediction.  Then to the Twelve Jesus makes the third prediction of his passion and resurrection, adding this time that these things will happen in fulfillment of prophecy. The meaning of his words is lost on them.

There is one more gospel passage to discuss, but we will look at that tomorrow as the story of the blind beggar has interesting parallels to the Gospel for this coming Sunday.

Image credit: “Zacchaeus” by Niels Larsen Stevns (photo: Gunnar Bach Pedersen) (Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark), Public Domain

4 thoughts on “Zacchaeus: what we miss

    • While there is always scholarly debate, the consensus is that Matthew was written post-70 AD since it mentions the destruction of Jerusalem (in 70 AD) as a historical event. Most scholars place Luke in 80s

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