Saving What Was Lost

This coming Sunday is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Yesterday we considered the “cost”of grace. Today we take a look at the graciousness of Jesus

Jesus’ words in v. 9 are literally: “Today salvation has happened to/in this house(hold), because also this one is a son of Abraham.” What is the “salvation” that has happened? “Salvation” (soteria) is a rare word in Luke. All the other occurrences are in the Benedictus (Zechariah’s song of praise – 1:69, 71 & 77), which are in references to John the Baptist’s ministry. The related word also translated “salvation” (soterion) occurs in the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s cry of praise in 2:30) and in a quote from Isaiah (3:6). So outside of two songs and an OT quote, the noun “salvation” only occurs in this text. (Neither of these words occur in Mt or Mk and only once in John – although we have already encountered a related verb “to heal/save” (sozo) and will again in v. 10 below.)

What happened to or in this house(hold)? Although this “salvation” declaration comes after Zacchaeus’ promises to give away money, we must note

Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (v.5)  … And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. (v.9)

The “salvation” event was Jesus himself coming to the house. The salvation wasn’t just for Zacchaeus, but for everyone else in the house(hold) – wife, children, slaves, guests?, etc. They had been in the presence of Jesus and that is salvation. (This narrative anticipates the household conversions in Acts 10:1-11, 18; 16:25-34; 18:1-11).

What about Abraham? The verse makes it sound like Zacchaeus is saved because he is a son of Abraham – and that it had nothing to do with Jesus. However, we look at another Lucan verse about children of Abraham. John the Baptist declares: “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)  Being a child of Abraham is not about a biological connection, but bearing fruit worthy of repentance. As Paul stresses in Romans 4, the children of Abraham are those who live like Abraham, i.e., in a faith relationship with God. Zacchaeus has just promised to bear the proper fruit.

The question then becomes what are we seeking? Hopefully the answer is a saving and right relationship with Jesus that bears fruit in the world. Maybe the harder question is what enslaving prejudices do we bring that hold us and others back?  We know Zacchaeus, or people like him, and we more easily hold on to our assessments than to change our opinions about them.  We pigeon-hole people, we interpret all their present behaviors upon our past conclusions about them as people.  We believe what God can do in us, but others….. sometimes that is harder to believe. It is that moment we can perhaps more clearly see what we do not seek and what we assume is lost.

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

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