NRSV Luke 19:8 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.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
We last connected with Peter Enns here in February, but I wanted to run this very recent post by him for two reasons. First, I’m currently reading his book The Sin of Certainty which we will probably run an excerpt from very soon. Second, this resonated with me because of a fresh take on Zacchaeus by Gary Burge which we touched on briefly here a few years ago. Click the title below to read this on his blog, The Bible for Normal People. Dr. Enns is a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern College.
Many of us know the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector from Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). Many of us are also probably stricken with paralysis at the sound of the Zacchaeus song, which haunts the memory of any parent who has ever done time teaching children’s Sunday school or VBS. But I digress.
Not at all unlike another famous resident from Jericho, Rahab in the book of Joshua, Zacchaeus a “sinner” (v. 7) welcomes a visitor into his home with stunning, life-shifting results.
Without Jesus even needing to say a word, Zacchaeus commits to giving half his possessions to the poor and paying back fourfold anyone he has defrauded. And Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house. . . . ”
Perhaps like me, you have wondered what Jesus means by “salvation”? Perhaps you were taught that right there that day Zacchaeus was “saved” by accepting Jesus into his heart and receiving assurance of going to heaven when he died.
But that’s not happening here. Zacchaeus’s salvation is his committing to a change in life—from greed and dishonesty to generosity and justice. He is repenting, in the true biblical sense of the Greek word metanoia—a change of heart that is evidenced in a change in how one lives.
And to this change in how one lives Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Many of us might focus on the next life when we see the word salvation in this story. That’s how we were taught. But that misses the point.
Jesus’s declaration of salvation is tied to what Zacchaeus does with no mention of a final reward. The point is what is happening today.
Zacchaeus needed salvation, a change of life now. Don’t we all.
Zacchaeus was “saved” because he committed to changing his way of life, to bring it into conformity with the mercy and generosity of God—which is to say, Zacchaeus was becoming more truly human, an image-bearer of of God.
Salvation isn’t something that happens once to get your membership card to heaven— “once saved always saved,” as the saying goes. Salvation is something that keeps happening in our lives, needs to keep happening, as we work to conform our lives by God’s kind grace to reflect the life of Jesus.
Over the years I have learned to pray differently. Hardly a day now goes by when I do not ask for deliverance.
For a change in the tired patterns in my life.
That kind of prayer would have been unthinkable to me some years ago, but I have come to see what I was missing all those years.
The membership card I keep in my wallet for future consideration is of little use. I need salvation right now.
Deliver me, O Lord. Save me . . .
from broken relationships
from fear for my family
from the fear of what might be or might not be
from not knowing
from the need to know
from the need to be right
from this horrid and subtle self-centeredness
from looking down on any other human being
from feeling misunderstood and undervalued
from being defined by my past
from judging others by their past
from manipulating my neighbor with clever words
from feeling not enough
from what I cling to
from all my failings
from all my accomplishments
Not later. Not at some point in time. But now.
Right this minute.
I don’t want things to continue as they are.
Zacchaeus finds salvation. And so can we. Every day.
[A beautiful song by Audrey Assad, “I Shall Not Want,” captures this idea far better than I am able to in a blog post. Also, a major theme in N. T. Wright’s new book The Day the Revolution Began is the New Testament’s emphasis on salvation as very much now rather than simply later. And if you want to read some of my books, here you go: The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016), The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014), The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012), Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015).]