Who can be saved?

The story of Zacchaeus answers the question that has flowed in and out of the Jerusalem travel narrative (since 9:51) as Jesus asserts, Today salvation has come to this house (19:9) – all in the unmerited grace of Christ. Green (Gospel of Luke, 667-8) comments:

Employing categories fully developed in the prior narrative in incongruous, even oxymoronic juxtaposition – “ruler,” “tax collector,” “wealthy,” and “sinner” – Luke articulates a pivotal element of his narrative theology. Here, Luke dismisses the usual, stereotypical categories by which one’s status before God is predetermined, including even those surprising ones that might have been suggested in Luke’s narration. Following a close reading of chs. 1-18, Luke’s audience might assume that the wealthy and those who rule are out, sinners and toll collectors are in. What, then, are we to make of someone who is all these things? In his characterization of Zacchaeus, Luke  pulls the rug from under every cliché, every formula by which people’s status before God might be calculated. After the dust settles, two complementary assertions remain: (1) the salvific agency of Jesus on behalf of those routinely excluded and (2) the determination of one’s inclusion in the family of God on the basis of the single query. Do you conduct yourself as a child of Abraham (cf.  3:8-14)?

In light of the narrative parallels between the blind beggar and Zacchaeus we should not be surprised to note that again Luke has introduced the idea of “seeing.”  Many of the times Luke uses the standard word ideín to indicate that seen with the eyes (e.g. v.3), however, at important junctures Luke opts to make a direct verbal linkage via the word anablepo. In the account of the blind beggar anablepo is translated “see again” or “regain sight” (18:41, 42, 43).  In our text it is translated “looked up” (19:5). What is important to our story is that this word is used elsewhere in the NT and its use always is connected to an anticipation of salvation in the kingdom of heaven or as a sign/symbol of the in-breaking of the kingdom and the time of salvation:

  • To look up to heaven as an act of hope in God. In the account of the multiplication of the loaves Jesus looks up to heaven (Matt 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16). This sense also appears in connection with the healing of a deaf-mute (Mark 7:34).
  • Recovery of sight as a sign of the dawn of salvation.
  • This sense appears in Mark 8:24 (the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida); 10:51 (“Master, I want to see” 52; Matt 20:34; Luke 18:41, 42, 43 where the believing act of seeing is a consequence of the encounter with God’s offer of salvation in Jesus
  • In John 9:11, 15, 18 (the healing at the pool of Siloam of one blind from birth) the ability to see leads to faith in the Son of Man
  • when Jesus, the messianic bringer of salvation, restores sight, the OT eschatological promise of the healing of the blind (Isa 61:5–7; 35:5f.; 29:15ff.; also Matt 11:5; Luke 7:22) is fulfilled in the “today” of the encounter with Jesus.

In v.5 it is Jesus who “looks up” (anablepo) – thus not simply catching sight of Zacchaeus but “seeing” him all because salvation is being played out in front of all the descendant[s] of Abraham (v.9) who looked upon the scene.  Jesus is the primary actor who “looks up” to heaven in an act of hope that Zacchaeus will again see the salvation first offered to the Jews via the patriarchs and the prophets and now offered in the person of Jesus.

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

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