Summary: A perspective on Luke 19: On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped to give life to others according to their needs. Jesus teaches that we all need to stop from time to time and give life to someone in need. In this way we live in his kingdom.
On The Way To Jerusalem
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” (v.38), so shouted the expectant crowd that surrounded Jesus as he made his way to Jerusalem. The subject of that verse clearly expresses a major theme of chapter 19. The Gospel writer, Luke continues to develop the theme of kingship through the narratives in chapter 19. He draws the reader to look at the nature of kingship on earth as prescribed by men and to compare it with the kingship that Jesus will usher in as the Son of God. Luke challenges the members of his own congregation as he does all Christians in two fields. One challenge is to acknowledge and accept the different nature of the kingship that Jesus offers compared to that of an earthly king. The other challenge is to live within both the kingdoms under the lordship of Jesus, the King of kings who reins from his throne in heaven.
Luke was probably a Gentile by birth. His writing reveals that he was well educated in the Greek and Jewish culture of the day in Palestine. He understood the good news of Jesus where he brings joy, hope, and salvation to all people including the Gentiles. In chapter 19 as elsewhere, Luke introduces stories out of the life of Jesus that would be of particular interest and relevance to the Gentiles. He reveals that Jesus brings salvation not only to his own people, the Jews, but also to all sinners.
1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.
Jericho was a large wealthy city in the southern part of the Jordan valley. It lay at the junction of two major roads that accommodated a large volume of traffic in trade through the region. King Herod built his winter palace there. One of his major building projects was the connection of the various fresh water springs with aqueducts and thereby turning the region into a green oasis of agriculture. The population of Jericho consisted of Jew and Gentile. Greeks and Romans were part of the Gentile population who lived there amongst the tens of thousands of Jews. The setting of Jericho allowed it to become a major tax collecting centre for the Romans.
Despite what Jericho had to offer through its opulence and wealth, Jesus was only passing through. He was on the road to Jerusalem and to all that awaited him there. Even though he knew that death awaited him in Jerusalem he was eager to get there as if a beloved relative or friend needed his help. Jesus was on a mission to bring salvation to all people beginning in Jerusalem. The words, “Jesus was passing through” gives a sense of urgency that he had no time to waste. Whether the people in the city of Jericho knew it or not, Jesus was on a mission for their benefit.
2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.
Tradition has ascribed Zacchaeus to be a Jew. The reason primarily comes from the statement that Jesus says of him, “This man, too, is a son of Abraham” (v9). This is understood in the light that Abraham is the revered forefather of the people of Israel. However, there is another explanation to the meaning of Jesus’ statement about Zacchaeus and that will become clear later on.
Zacchaeus was probably a Greek by ethnicity. His name was probably derived from a Hebrew equivalent meaning ‘pure or righteous’. It would have been an acceptable name in the multicultural region of Palestine. The meaning of the name sounds immediately contradicting to the nature of the man himself. However, through his meeting with Jesus his name becomes justified.
Luke would have chosen a narrative for his audience with a character that they would have known and could relate to in more ways than one. Zacchaeus was a Gentile and a wealthy business man. He was a chief tax collector of the kind that would have tendered for the business of collecting taxes for the Romans on goods and produce being transported through Jericho. He would have managed a team of tax collectors. The tax that he would have charged a trader included a calculated component owed to the Roman government as well as a surcharge for collecting the tax. It was that excessive surcharge that made Zacchaeus wealthy and considered unfair by the people. Many traders both Jew and Gentile would have had contact and dealings with Zacchaeus and his team of tax collectors. They themselves may have been wealthy too. Zacchaeus would have been one of many in the region who had at times listened to the stories about Jesus.
3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.