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Luke 19


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Notes compiled from a variety of sources, including and The New Interpreter’s Bible

Sunday morning October 31, 2010

Theme: What Do You See?
Liturgical color: Green

Luke 19:1-10
             He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named
19           Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see
             who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was
             short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him,
because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and
said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6So
he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and
said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8Zacchaeus stood there and
said to the Lord, ‘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.’ 9Then Jesus said
to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.
   For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’


There are many things which prevent people from a clear, unobstructed view of Jesus.
Writing toward the end of the first century, Luke has strong desires to break through
human barriers of nation and language, gender and race, religion and social class. For
Luke, Jesus meant “good news of great joy for all the people”, and Acts is the story of
apostles and Paul taking that good news across the Roman Empire.

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of outreach to those whom the religious establishment
of Jesus’ day often rejected: to outcast shepherds and despised Samaritans, to a dying
criminal and some murderous Roman soldiers; to subjugated women and persons
shunned because of their disabilities.

In Luke 19:1-10 Jesus reaches out to a rejected tax collector. He was despised by his
own Jewish people as a sinner who collaborated with the hated Romans in collecting
taxes for them. He was free to add on to that tax for his own benefit at the expense of his
own people; and he got rich doing so.

This text picks up images from the previous chapter: the tax collector (18:9-14); the rich
man (18:18-27); and a blind man outside of Jericho who couldn’t see Jesus even if he had
climbed up a tree. In addition, there was opposition to the blind man “seeing” Jesus
(18:35-43) as there were people opposed to Jesus seeing Zacchaeus. It might be a stretch
to equate “short” Zacchaeus with the infants of 18:15-17, who were also short and had
some difficulties coming to Jesus, but on the other hand, climbing a tree might be
considered childish behavior.

1) As you read the story of Zacchaeus, imagine yourself as Zach. What are the
   similarities and differences between your life and that of Zacchaeus? What are the
   barriers that prevent you from clearly seeing Jesus? (The barrier for Zacchaeus was
   his desire to accumulate wealth).
2) When Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, he broke through the barriers between tax
   collectors and the people. He not only met with Zacchaeus on the street, he went
   home with this “sinner” to the chagrin of others. What is the “tree” you must climb in
   order to see Jesus clearly?
3) How do you think it feels to be shut out by the crowd? When your opinion doesn’t
   matter? When your ideas are constantly rejected?
4) What prevented Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus? Was his height the only barrier? How
   might his job have been a barrier to seeing Jesus clearly?
5) Zacchaeus was “short in stature.” Barriers can also come from physical disabilities,
   cultural prejudices, learning difficulties, and other involuntary sources. But there are
   also “voluntary” barriers. Do you have voluntary barriers?
6) How would you complete the following sentences: “If I were taller, I would . . . If I
   were better looking, I would… If I were more talented, I would… If I were younger, I
   would… If I were richer, I would… If I were more faithful, I would… If I were
   closer to God, I would…
7) What do you, or the church, need to do to overcome its barriers?


Overcoming barriers can demand major changes and high costs. Zacchaeus had to give
up being rich. The payment of the defrauded would be expensive. Overcoming barriers
may not be the popular thing to do. When Jesus reached out to Zacchaeus, others
grumbled about it. The way to overcome a barrier may not be immediately obvious. It
took a major event (Jesus’ coming to Jericho combined with Zacchaeus’ desire to see
him) for Zacchaeus to begin to overcome the barriers in his life.

The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that comic rogue and rascals are perched on the
branches of the church family tree. Zacchaeus is a compact mix of familiar ingredients in
the odd concoction of sainthood: crooked, winsome, dogged, reckless, wildly generous
and splendidly unself-conscious. Somewhere in the movement from a tree to a table, in
the presence of Jesus, he claims the gospel's twin gifts of grace and justice.

Clearly, Luke wants us to like Zacchaeus, and we do. Initially, we think we're not
supposed to like him; he is "rich," and Luke's news about the rich is consistently bleak.
They are the ones sent away empty, the doomed, the fools, the heartless, the ones less
likely to enter God's dominion than a camel is likely to squeeze through a needle's eye.
Though by now we know that tax collectors are welcomed by Jesus, Zacchaeus is a chief
tax collector, a godfather in the toll taker mafia, a powerful, filthy-rich parasite. We
should recoil, but Luke won't let us. He makes us see Zacchaeus as an individual--gives
us his name, shows us that he is short, shows him so eager to see Jesus that he clambers
up a tree. Walter Rauschenbusch likened this to a corporate executive shinnying up a
telephone pole. As a filmmaker you'd give this part to Danny DeVito. Zacchaeus may not
have a camel-through-a-needle's-eye chance of getting past God's door, but it's not for
being unlovable. In him we understand what Jesus saw in another rich man (Mark 10:21),
one who didn't make it.

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