The Story We Know…

Read Luke 19:1-10

Sometimes the story we know and the story that is can be two different things. Many people are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus (there is even a children’s song written about it) but maybe the story is different than what we know.

Let’s start with his name. Zacchaeus actually means, “pure, clean, or innocent.” Now, that certainly doesn’t mean he is any of those things, but it does paint an interesting contrast to how he is most often perceived. Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector in the town of Jericho which basically meant that his job was to coordinate all of those who collected taxes on behalf of Rome… the enemy. He may have been corrupt, or he may have just been doing his job. Either way he was not popular with the people. He worked for the enemy and people talked.

Interestingly, Zacchaeus wanted desperately to see Jesus when he came to town. I’ve often thought this to be a curious detail in the story. If Zacchaeus was such a terrible and corrupt person, why would he be so eager to see and meet with Jesus who was anything but those things? Why would he so readily want to meet with Jesus who would certainly call out his corruption? But Zacchaeus does get his meeting with Jesus. In fact, Jesus invites himself to stay at Zacchaeus’ home. Here is where the story that we know and the story that is may actually be different. Zacchaeus was, “happy to welcome him” and upon Jesus’ arrival, “Zacchaeus 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.” It sounds like Zacchaeus has a guilty conscious and wants to make things right. But maybe he already has. This text, along with the rest of the New Testament was originally written in ancient Greek, not English. In Greek, the verb tense is not future but present — not “I will give/repay” but “I [already] give/repay.” This might imply that Zacchaeus has actually not been acting corruptly all this time. Maybe Zacchaeus, the one whose name means “pure, innocent, and clean,” has actually been acting justly. Maybe Zacchaeus wasn’t desperate to see and meet with Jesus out of a guilty conscious… maybe he wanted to see and meet with Jesus because he was desperately alone. I don’t know for sure, but I have to wonder if maybe (as it so often is) the story we know and the story that is are different. Either way Jesus proclaims, “Today salvation has come to this house…” Be it corruption or loneliness or whatever, salvation has come through Jesus.

The story we know and the story that is can often be very different. Whatever the case, Jesus wants to become part of our story, bringing hope and healing and salvation to all!

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