Stories of Opposites

This coming Sunday is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Yesterday we briefly looked at all the stories in Luke that fall between the gospel readings of the 30th and 31st Sunday – save one: The Blind Beggar (Luke 18:35–43). Today we will review that story and its interesting parallels with the story of Zaccheaus.

The approach to Jericho signals the final stage of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Here, as in the incident of the children, the disciples try to keep an “insignificant” person from bothering the Master. The evangelist continues on another level to present the life of the church as a journey with Jesus on the way of the Lord. The note that it is “the people walking in front” who reprimand the beggar is a subtle warning to church leaders who might overlook the needs of the powerless (see Acts 6:1). But it is for these lowly who express their need for salvation that Jesus has come. The present chapter is a gallery of such people: the widow, the tax collector, the children, now the blind beggar.

The beggar’s name is given in Mark as Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46). Blind as he is, he cries out with inspired insight, calling Jesus by the messianic title “Son of David.” When questioned, he goes further to identify Jesus as “Lord.” In response to this faith, he receives the message of deliverance that by now is a stereotyped phrase: “Your faith has saved you” (7:50; 8:48; 17:19). Both the beggar and the witnesses see the ultimate meaning of this act of power and glorify God.

The two Jericho stories – the blind man and Zacchaeus – each contains interesting parallels:

  • a (poor) beggar || a wealthy chief tax collector
  • dependent upon other’s generosity || dependent on his own power and wealth
  • unable to see Jesus || initially prevented from seeing Jesus
  • wants to see (again) || tries to see (Jesus)
  • cries out to Jesus || says nothing
  • the crowd tries to keep him from Jesus || the crowd blocks his way to Jesus
  • Jesus asks what he wants || Jesus tells him what Jesus wants
  • Your faith has saved you” || “Salvation has come to this house

The story of entering the house of Zacchaeus stands fittingly as the last of Jesus’ encounters with the outcasts before his entry in to Jerusalem. The pericope picks up threads of the previous chapter. Alan Culpepper notes (Luke, 357):

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (18:9-14) turns on the question of righteousness. Jesus declared that “all who humble themselves will be exalted” (18:14), and Zacchaeus cast aside all regard for his own dignity by climbing a tree in order to see Jesus.  Jesus challenged the rich ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor (18:22), but he went away sad. Joyfully, Zacchaeus responds to Jesus’ declaration that he would stay at Zacchaeus’ house by promising to sell half of his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The difference between half and all is not the issue. Rather, it is Zacchaeus’ eagerness to do what is right for the poor. Thus the salvation of Zacchaeus is told in the form of a miracle story. Jesus demonstrated the power of God at work in the announcement of the kingdom: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (18:24). Finally, the story of Zacchaeus is coupled to the story of the blind beggar – both occurs as Jesus is passing through Jericho; the blind man wanted to see, and Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus; in both stories the crowd serves as an impediment to the one who desires to see; in both the verb for “stood”…marks a dramatic turn in the story (18:40; 19:8); the joy or the praise of God accompanies the “healing” (18:43; 19:6); and in both the effect is immediate (18:43; 19:9)

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

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