Here's this week's "Opening the Bible" blog entry for i.ucc.org:
I’ve heard the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10 countless times. For most of my life I’ve remembered the “climbing up a tree” part and also the “I’m going to your house today!” part. I’ve learned that Jesus notices the ones who seek him and “comes over” to spend time with them. I’ve also learned that Jesus loves people of all sizes and from all walks of life.
And I love that I’ve learned those things.
And this week, at the risk of taking what I’ve experienced as a simple story and making it much more heady, I want to wrestle with verb tense.
When Jesus was at Zacchaeus’ house and Zacchaeus said, "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," Jesus responded with “Today salvation has come to this house.” (I’m purposely staying away from the “son of Abraham” part right now – since it brings up a different question and I don’t want my mind to wander off just yet. Wait. Where was I?)
Bible-smarty pants people have suggested that Zacchaeus could also have said “"Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much."
In the first case it sounds like Zacchaeus has had a life-changing experience with Jesus and he decides to change his dishonest ways and make things right. And Jesus responds with joy and celebration.
In the second case, it sounds like Zacchaeus is telling Jesus (not so unlike the way the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 – last week’s reading did) exactly what he does do. And Jesus responds with joy and celebration.
So I’m just wondering.
If Zacchaeus is talking about his future, and he’s showing faith in Jesus, and because of that faith Jesus calls him a “son of Abraham,” does it mean that this is a radical conversion story about someone who once was lost but now is found?
If Zacchaeus is talking about his present, and he’s been showing faith in Jesus, and because of that faith Jesus calls him a “son of Abraham,” does it mean that this is an extraordinary journey story about someone who is on the journey from lost to found?
And what would really be the difference?