Sunday, October 27, 2019

Who Then Can Be Saved? This Guy!

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Luke 19:1-10, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost. We have leapt over a few stories since the reading for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost – Jesus blessing the children; Jesus’ encounter with the rich ruler; Jesus’ third disclosure about how this journey to Jerusalem would go down; and Jesus’ encounter with a blind man. Now, we arrive at Jericho, the last town between Jesus and Jerusalem.  

In the 18th chapter, Jesus encounters a rich ruler who - when invited to sell all he had and give to the poor - went away sad. It is here that Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter to reign of God. The crowd responds to this event with the question, "Who then can be saved?" The story of Zacchaeus answers that question profoundly. 

1 Καὶ εἰσελθὼν διήρχετο τὴν Ἰεριχώ. 
And having entered he was journeying through Jericho.
εἰσελθὼν : AAPart, nms, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter  
διήρχετο : IMI, 3s, διέρχομαι, 1) to go through, pass through  1a) to go, walk, journey, pass through a place 
1. This verse has a participle, followed by a main verb. That pattern will be repeated in vv. 4, 5 (in Jesus’ words), 6, 7, 8,
2. I learned early on that “Joshua fit the battle ‘round Jericho.” Joshua cursed Jericho and anyone who tried to rebuild it and Rahab the harlot was rescued from Jericho prior to its destruction. If this story intends to carry an echo from Joshua 6, one could say that Jericho is an evil place where notorious sinners find God and are saved.

2 καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀνὴρ ὀνόματι καλούμενος Ζακχαῖος, καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν 
ἀρχιτελώνης καὶ αὐτὸς πλούσιος.
And behold a man who was called Zacchaeus in name, and he was a chief tax collector and he [was] rich. 
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes, taking the form of a particle
καλούμενος : PPPart, nms, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud,
ἦν : IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. I’m reading that “Zacchaeus” means “pure.” Does that have any significance or even ironic significance for this story?
2. Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector. And rich. As such, he brings to mind both the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector of Luke 18:9-14 and the story of the rich ruler who cannot let go of his wealth in Luke 18:18-30

 3 καὶ ἐζήτει ἰδεῖν τὸν Ἰησοῦν τίς ἐστιν, καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου 
ὅτι τῇ ἡλικίᾳ μικρὸς ἦν.
And he was seeking to see Jesus who he is, and was not able among the crowd, because in the stature he was small. 
ἐζήτει : IAI 3s, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find  1a) to seek a thing  
ἰδεῖν : AAInf, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, to be
ἠδύνατο : IMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and  resources
ἡλικίᾳ : dsf, ἡλικία, 1) age, time of life  ...2) stature, i.e in height and comeliness of stature
ἦν : IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. I’m hearing different opinions over whether the “he was small” (μικρὸς ἦν) has Zacchaeus or Jesus as its antecedent. One person has argued that because “Jesus” is in the accusative case (as the object of the infinitive “to see”) that he cannot be the antecedent. I don’t know if that’s a real rule or not. At the expense of questioning a good Sunday School song, what say the scholars out there? Who is short – Jesus or Zacchaeus?

 4 καὶ προδραμὼν εἰς τὸ ἔμπροσθεν ἀνέβη ἐπὶ συκομορέαν ἵνα ἴδῃ αὐτόν, 
ὅτι ἐκείνης ἤμελλεν διέρχεσθαι.
And having run on ahead, he ascended up a sycamore in order that he might see him, because he was about to pass by.
προδραμὼν : AAPart, nms, προτρέχω, 1) to run before, to outrun
ἀνέβη : AAI 3s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up  1b) to rise, mount, be borne up, spring up
ἴδῃ : AASubj, 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 
ἤμελλεν: IAI 3s, μέλλω, 1) to be about  1a) to be on the point of doing or suffering something  1b) to intend, have in mind, think to
διέρχεσθαι: PMInf 3s, διέρχομαι, 1) to go through, pass through 
1. Luke emphasizes that Zacchaeus has run ahead by using the aorist participle “having run on” (προδραμὼν) and the prepositional phrase “into the before” (εἰς τὸ ἔμπροσθεν). 
2. The tree here is συκομορέαν (accusative of συκομορέα). says συκομορέαν is a combination of “σῦκον and μορέα the mulberry tree.” In 17:6 it is συκαμίνῳ, which says is “a sycamine, a tree having the form and foliage of the mulberry, but fruit resembling the fig. They then cite H.B. Tristram’s The Natural History of the Bible (2d ed. p. 396), to distinguish the sycamine as the black-mulberry tree, and the sycomore as the fig-mulberry.
3. Pertaining to the question of who the implied “he” is in v.3 who is small in stature: The “he” in this verse of “he was about to pass by” seems to be Jesus. If so, that would violate the ‘rule’ that I mention in v.3, n.1 because the latest reference to Jesus is the accusative “him” that Zacchaeus wanted to see. That is to say, I’m not convinced that an accusative noun or pronoun is disqualified from being the antecedent of a following implied subject.
3. The notion of Zacchaeus climbing a tree could be comical or it could be him – in his desire – throwing dignity to the wind, as the father in the parable of the lost son does when he hikes up his robe and runs down the road.  
4. I’m considering writing a tale about a diminutive tax collector named Eugene who runs ahead but takes the right side of a fork in the road while Jesus, Zacchaeus, and the crowd take the left side. Alas, Eugene’s desire to see Jesus is never fulfilled. It would be a tragic short story (see what I did there?).

 5 καὶ ὡς ἦλθεν ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον, ἀναβλέψας  Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτόν, Ζακχαῖε, σπεύσας κατάβηθι, σήμερον γὰρ ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ σου δεῖ με μεῖναι.
And as he came to the place, having looked up Jesus said to him, “Zacchie, having made haste, come down, for today it is necessary for me to stay in your house.” 
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
ἀναβλέψας: AAPart nsm, ἀναβλέπω, 1) to look up 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
σπεύσας : AAPart, nms, σπεύδω, 1) to haste, make haste  2) to desire earnestly
κατάβηθι: AAImp 2s, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend  1a) the place from which one has come down from  1b) to come down 
δεῖ : PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains 
μεῖναι: AAInf, μένω, 1) to remain, abide  1a) in reference to place 
1. The name Zacchaeus takes on another form in the vocative case. It looks diminutive when I try to phonetically replicate it in English, but that does not seem to be the point. The change does not not indicate a nickname, but a calling.
2. Verses 2, 3, and 4 had references to ‘seeing’ (or beholding). Here, Jesus looks up. The previous story has a blind man asking to see and when the people see that he can see they rejoice. Just sayin’.
3. The issue of time seems important to this verse. Zacchaeus must “make haste;” Jesus must stay with him “today.” Colloquially it might work to say, “Hurry up and come down. We have to go to your place right now.”

 6 καὶ σπεύσας κατέβη, καὶ ὑπεδέξατο αὐτὸν χαίρων.
And having made haste, he came down, and welcomed him rejoicing.
σπεύσας: AAPart, nms, σπεύδω, 1) to haste, make haste  2) to desire earnestly
κατέβη: AAI 3s, καταβαίνω, 1) to go down, come down, descend 
ὑπεδέξατο : AMI 3s, ὑποδέχομαι, 1) to receive as a guest
χαίρων: PAPart, nms, χαίρω, 1) to rejoice, be glad  2) to rejoice exceedingly 
1. Despite what I said in v.5, n.3, the texture of the phrase “made haste” might be less about temporal urgency in Luke than an implication of excitement. Its other usage in Luke  is 2:16, when the shepherds go to see the thing that angels had announced to them. Here, Zacchaeus is rejoicing as he welcomes Jesus. Of course, the temporality of haste and the joyful are often companions.
2. While ὑποδέχομαι is often ‘receive’ I like to make it ‘welcome’ when it is in the middle voice.

 7 καὶ ἰδόντες πάντες διεγόγγυζον λέγοντες ὅτι Παρὰ ἁμαρτωλῷ ἀνδρὶ 
εἰσῆλθεν καταλῦσαι.
And having seen all were murmuring saying, “With a sinful man he entered to lodge.”
ἰδόντες : AAPart, nmpl, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
διεγόγγυζον: IAI, 3pl, διαγογγύζω, 1) to murmur  1a) either of a whole crowd, or among one another  1b) always used of many indignantly complaining 
λέγοντες : PAPart, nmpl, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰσῆλθεν : AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter  
καταλῦσαι: AAInf, καταλύω, 1) to dissolve, disunite  ...  1c) of travelers, to halt on a journey, to put up, lodge (the figurative expression originating in the circumstance that,  to put up for the night, the straps and packs of the beasts  of burden are unbound and taken off; or, more correctly from  the fact that the traveler's garments, tied up when he is  on the journey, are unloosed at it end) 
1. The verb διαγογγύζω (murmuring) is the word that the LXX uses for the people of Israel murmuring against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness in the manna story of Exodus 16. Luke uses διαγογγύζω in 15:2 to describe the Pharisees and Scribes murmuring against Jesus for receiving sinners and eating with them. In 5:29-32, Luke uses the root word γογγύζω to describe Pharisees and their Scribes murmuring to the disciples about Jesus eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, specifically in the house of Levi, a tax collector. There is something very Christ-like about being the object of scorn for eating with and keeping ‘undesirable’ company.
2. I have an extended definition of the infinitive καταλύω because it seems like a leap to go from a verb that means “dissolve, disunite” to “lodge.” But, given the etymological history, it might be something like “take a load off” or “unwind.” 
3. The phrase “a sinful man” reminds us that the position of chief tax collector is, in and of itself, fraught with connotations of being a sinner.

 8 σταθεὶς δὲ Ζακχαῖος εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν κύριον, Ἰδοὺ τὰ ἡμίσιά μου τῶν 
ὑπαρχόντων, κύριε, τοῖς πτωχοῖς δίδωμι, καὶ εἴ τινός τι ἐσυκοφάντησα 
ἀποδίδωμι τετραπλοῦν.
Yet having stood, Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “Behold half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I defrauded anyone of anything, I give back fourfold.”
σταθεὶς : APPart, nms, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set  1a) to bid to stand by, [set up]  1a1) in the presence of others, in the midst, before judges,  before members of the Sanhedrin; 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes, taking the form of a particle
ὑπαρχόντων: PAPart, gpln, ὑπάρχω, 1) to begin below, to make a beginning  1a) to begin  2) to come forth, hence to be there, be ready, be at hand  3) to be 
δίδωμι: PAI 1s, δίδωμι, 1) to give 
ἐσυκοφάντησα: AAI 1s, συκοφαντέω, 1) to accuse wrongfully, to calumniate, to attack by malicious devices  2) to exact money wrongfully  2a) to extort from, defraud. 
ἀποδίδωμι : PAI 1s, ἀποδίδωμι, 1) to deliver, to give away for one's own profit what is one's  own, to ... 3) to give back, restore 
1. Zacchaeus’ claims, “I give to the poor” and “I give back fourfold” are in the present tense, not the future tense, as the NRSV suggests with “I will give” and “I will pay back.” The NIV makes the first verb emphatic, “Here and now I give” and the second future, “I will pay back.” It seems to me that those translations read this comment by Zacchaeus as an impulsive act, a testimony that he has had a change of heart. That is a very common way of reading this story, but – consider this.
a. I read Zacchaeus’ words as springing from the ‘joyfulness’ with which he welcomed Jesus. I’ve often envisioned this as a comical Danny DeVito-like Zacchaeus running to the cubbyhole hiding places in his house to offer up his hidden ill-gotten gains (half of them, anyway). I think, perhaps, I even saw that in a movie once. But, within the flow of the story, any change of heart should keep in view Zacchaeus’ whole journey – his desire to see Jesus, his running ahead, and climbing a tree – rather than just this set of declarations.  
b. Perhaps Zacchaeus is defending himself against the murmuring folks (“all” according to v.7) by showing that – even as the chief of tax collectors - he tries to do right with his possessions. His present tense claims are no different grammatically than what the Pharisee said in his prayer from last week’s reading, “I fast twice per Sabbath, I tithe everything that I possess.” He may not be making a promise as a result of a change of heart, but declaring to Jesus how he operates, even as a chief tax collector.
c. The phrase “if I have defrauded” is not quite an admission of guilt in English, but says that the word εἰ (if) with the indicative mood (as here) assumes the hypothesis as an actual fact, the condition being unfulfilled, but no doubt being thrown on the supposition. That could mean “yes, I have defrauded, but I intend to pay back fourfold”; or “when I defraud I pay back fourfold.”  
d. If Zacchaeus is describing his ongoing activity of giving half of his money to the poor, he is at least halfway better off than the rich young ruler, to whom Jesus told to sell his possessions and give his money to the poor (Lk.18:22).
2. has an interesting comment about the verb συκοφαντέω (defrauded): At Athens those were "sukophantia" whose business it was to inform against any one whom they might detect exporting figs out of Attica;  and as sometimes they seemed to extort money from those loath to be exposed, the name "sukophantes" from the time of Aristophanes down  was a general term of opprobrium to designate a malignant and base accuser from love of gain. 
The suggestion is that ‘defrauded’ is a term related to our word Sycophant, which means puts the emphasis less on the deceit against someone as on flattering someone powerful for personal gain.
3. Luke 3:12 shows that defrauding by tax collectors was an ongoing issue for the NT community: “Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked [John the Baptizer], ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”
4. Wellford Hobbie points out that fourfold restitution exceeds the legal requirements for fraud in Lev. 6:1-7.

9 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι Σήμερον σωτηρία τῷ οἴκῳ τούτῳ ἐγένετο, 
καθότι καὶ αὐτὸς υἱὸς Ἀβραάμ ἐστιν:
Yet Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come into being in this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham;
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, to be
1. Luke 18:26 has the folks who have heard Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler asking, “Who then can be saved?” (using the aorist passive form of σῴζω). Here Jesus uses the noun ‘salvation,’ answering the question of how, with God, it is possible for even a rich chief tax collector to be saved.
2. As long as I am hearing an echo of John the Baptizer’s words in Luke 3, we might as well point out that John emphasizes “bearing fruit with repentance” rather than relying on the saying, “We have Abraham as our father” (3:16). Where John contrasts the lineage of Abraham with bearing fruit, Jesus connects them, in some way, with the words καθότι (‘inasmuch as’ or ‘as’ or ‘because’) and καὶ (‘and’ or ‘even’ or ‘also’). I cannot tell if the combination of these two words implies that it is more likely or less likely for Zacchaeus’ house to receive salvation as a child of Abraham.

 10  ἦλθεν γὰρ  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ζητῆσαι καὶ σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός. 
for the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.
“to seek … the lost” Luke 15.
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ζητῆσαι: AAInf, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find
σῶσαι: AAInf, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
1. I have noted two possibilities regarding when the quote from Jesus ends. Perhaps it ends with v.9 and v.10 is a summary from Luke (as he does often). Or, perhaps Jesus’ words end with v.10 and he is making reference to himself as the 3rd person ‘son of man’ (as he does often).

It bears remembering that this event takes place as Jesus has entered and is journeying through Jericho. I hear the echoes of the story of Rahab, a harlot, in Jericho in whose house the spies from the people of Israel stayed. Rahab saved their lives and, in doing so, they saved her and her household’s lives when the army of Israel invaded the city (Joshua 2). The phrase, “Today salvation has come into being in this house” seems to be bringing that ancient story of the sinner of Jericho whose house was a place of salvation in a doomed-for-destruction city.  


  1. I've heard of no rule that a pronoun and its antecedent have to match in case, and especially with the 'oti', the subordinate clause should be free to use its own cases. Just like, "I went to visit my father, because he was paying for lunch." So yeah, totally Jesus being short here.

  2. At least it is possible that Jesus was the runt in this story. As a fellow runt, I like that possibility a lot!

    I should say that I think I was wrong to suggest that this scene may play out underneath the sycamore tree. When the people murmur that Jesus 'entered' Zacchaeus' house to lodge, it seems that the action has already moved from one place to the other.

  3. Yes, and there is the note that Zach "stands", perhaps from his previous position of reclining at a meal with Jesus.

    1. Yes, Zach stands, but the language carries a much firmer meaning of standing his ground. Zach did not just rise to the occasion, he staked his claim by testifying to his lifetime of care for others.

  4. The two things I've always wondered about this passage are: (1) why Luke bothers to tell us what sort of tree Zacchaeus climbed; and (2) why Jesus uses that odd turn of phrase about salvation coming into being in the house (instead of just saying "you are saved/free/clean" as per usual).

    Now I half-wonder whether the two are actually linked. Zacchaeus starts out as a Sycophant in a Sycomore, but ends up as a child of Abraham at home where salvation exists.

    Maybe there is a sense here that "salvation" (whatever that is) has to do with homecoming: being who you are, where you are supposed to be.

    Last week's tax collector also went down to his home justified; the prodigal son and the lost sheep both returned home; but the rich man who kept his gates shut on Lazarus ended up homeless, separated from Father Abraham.

  5. Three years having gone round the lectionary orbit to land on this reading again. For me the theme of salvation arriving at Z's house is a good nut to crack open. At what point does it arrive? Is it through Jesus's presence? Is it Z's proclamation of wealth sharing? Or is it the entire story arch of Z's joyfulness? Does Z bring it upon himself through his actions? Or are the actions reflections of recognizing the presence of salvation? For some reason this calls to mind the water to wine story in John, where the miracle of transformation just happens somewhere along the way, not in a single flash.

  6. From etymology online:

    1530s (in Latin form sycophanta), "informer, talebearer, slanderer," from Middle French sycophante and directly from Latin sycophanta, from Greek sykophantes "false accuser, slanderer," literally "one who shows the fig," from sykon "fig" (see fig) + phainein "to show" (from PIE root *bha- (1) "to shine").

    "Showing the fig" was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, itself symbolic of a vagina (sykon also meant "vulva"). The modern accepted explanation is that prominent politicians in ancient Greece held aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents. The sense of "mean, servile flatterer" is first recorded in English 1570s.

    The explanation, long current, that it orig. meant an informer against the unlawful exportation of figs cannot be substantiated. [OED]

    I think I just learned a new obscene gesture!


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