31st July 2012

Son of Abraham

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.  All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a “sinner.’”
Luke 19:2-7 (NIV)

Let’s try to remember how the story goes on:  Jesus visits Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus agrees to live a better life, with good deeds and careful observation of the religious law, including in particular the Mosaic rules governing restitution of property (Exodus 22:1). So Jesus accepts him.

Back to the story: “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save what was lost.’” (Luke 19:8-10).

Let’s try again:  Jesus visits Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus tries to impress him, promising to do good to the poor and to make up for all his sins. Jesus’ reply doesn’t directly connect with this. Instead of praising Zacchaeus for his laudable resolutions, he explains that what is really happening here is the salvation of those who are lost.

This is not exactly the same thing as acceptance of those who put right their mistakes. There was, of course, nothing bad about Zacchaeus’ eagerness to live a godly life, and Jesus certainly did not say there’s no need to be generous to the poor and to care for people he had wronged, but there was a point that had to be made. Jesus’ acceptance of Zacchaeus was put on the basis of his being a “son of Abraham”. That sounds like just another way of saying he was Jewish, but then there were a lot of Jews round about and Jesus wasn’t visiting every house.

The phrase “son of Abraham” had a new meaning that we see in John 8:39, “If you were Abraham’s children,” Jesus said to a group of Jews on a different occasion, “then you would do the things Abraham did.”  What did Abraham do? “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” Paul later quotes from the Old Testament. “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6-7). Jesus recognised Zacchaeus as a believer, even before he stood up to announce his turnaround. What he now needed was an understanding of how salvation from sin works:  Jesus, mankind’s salvation, had entered Zacchaeus’ life, not because of what Zacchaeus would do, but for what he could not do.

Father, thank you for the salvation that has come to us. In Jesus’ name.

Study by Fiona Jones

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