This is Pure — A Tax Collector and Sinner who shouldn’t be Here

This Is Pure
News of the rabbi who taught a radical redemption was spreading well beyond the religious community. The common people followed him in hoards, hoping to hear his healing teaching – or even experience the touch of his hand.

Jesus made his way through Jericho – the place Joshua and the people of Israel saw the city’s walls of self-protection fall down, making way for a new kingdom. It had been the home of King David’s great grandmother, the whore restored, Rahab.

The crowd pressed in as Jesus walked along the road, hanging on his every word.

The region’s most notorious traitor – Zacchaeus – hurried along trying to break through the crowd to catch a peek at this problematic prophet. It was rumored Jesus encouraged his followers to live lives tilted toward grace, not judgment; reconciliation, not separation; radical hospitality, not exclusion.

Some said he had even restored sight to those who were blind.

As the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus acquired from his neighbors the heavy tax imposed by the Roman occupiers on the Jewish people. His reputation within Jewish circles was damning – but the pay from the empire for his extortion was incredible.

In spite of his reward, Zacchaeus was wounded by the looks of disdain and disgust he received each time he was around his people. He often heard whispers behind his back – stinging words. Cursing his name. Wishing him dead.

Zacchaeus often masked the pain with anger, resulting in heated arguments and hateful words. There was a constant tension, an ‘edge’ in every interaction. This time was no different.

As he tried to penetrate the mass of those gathered to follow Jesus, he found himself blockaded by a human wall. Almost instinctively, the group closed the gaps he could sneak through – some even locking arms in an effort of partiality.

‘You’re the last person who deserves to see him, you financial whore.’

Unable to see over the gathering, Zacchaeus left the road and ran ahead to where he knew Jesus was going, about a mile up the only road leading out of town.

Exhausted and out of breath, he climbed a large sycamore tree near the side of the road.

He was desperate to catch a glimpse of grace incarnate.

When Jesus got to the tree, he looked up – his grace-giving eyes met those of Zacchaeus.

‘Come down from there, my friend. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.’

Everyone who saw this was indignant, and grumbled to one another. ‘What right does Jesus have to eat, associate and stay with him? He’s a sinner.’

Brave New Films

Hurrying down, Zacchaeus accepted the imposition of God and opened his home to the teacher.

But the accusations kept coming.

‘He’s still a tax collector! He’s not really one of us! He still works with and for them!’ ‘He’s impure by the very nature of his work – dealing with gentiles! He is a sinner – you shouldn’t be here, Jesus.’

Zacchaeus defended himself to Jesus, stammering apologetically. ‘I give half of what I earn to the poor – and whenever I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages to make up for it.’

The words sounded hollow, even to Zacchaeus.

The crowd that had gathered outside expected Jesus to condemn him, a vindication of their intolerance.

‘Today salvation is in this home!’ Jesus put his arm around the host. ‘This is Zacchaeus, and he’s just like all of us! A son of Abraham! I came to find and restore that which was lost, not condemn it.’

The crowd stood in disbelief, absorbing the irony. ‘Zacchaeus’ is translated, ‘pure.’

This is pure – and he’s just like us.

Jesus again had surprised everyone in his response of grace, forgiveness and hope. His commitment to solidarity with all people was leading to some interesting conclusions.

All of the people were hanging on his every word – and expectation of the coming kingdom had never been higher.

What they failed to realize is it was already here.

Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.

Print Friendly

About the Author

Michael Kimpan

Michael KimpanMichael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ.View all posts by Michael Kimpan →

  • Frank

    Lets get the passage right;

    LUKE 19:1-10

    “19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”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.”

    He says “I WILL give…” not ” I give…”

    He came to a point of repentance. Rejecting his sin, trusting Jesus and therefore made right or pure. It all rests on confession and repentance.

    • thanks for your thoughts, frank. it’s always a good thing to check with the text and make sure the context and usage are in order. glad you’re doing that – and the point of this passage being one of repentance was something i was always taught in sunday school as well – until i looked carefully at the text for myself…and found something even more surprising.

      i’m curious to which version you quoted in your comment.

      the reason i bring that up…contrary to most contemporary translations (including both the NRSV and NIV), the tense of the verbs in zacchaeus’ declaration are present, rather than future (ironically, this present tense is not only upheld in the english translations of KJV – but also [less ironically] the ESV and nt wright’s recent ‘kingdom new testament.’ the NASB puts the word *will* in italics, suggesting its addition for readability, but admits it is not found in the original greek texts).

      this means zacchaeus isn’t pledging, “look, half of my possessions I *will* give to the poor. and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I *will* pay back four times as much.” rather, zacchaeus is boasting (probably in response to the grumbling of the crowd’s accusations), “look, half of my possessions I *give* to the poor…[and] I *pay* back four times” — as in right now, already, as a matter of practice.

      interestingly, the *only* occurrence of this particular verb tense takes place in luke 19:8 – which of course mucks up interpreting this as a repentance scene. in an effort to protect the idea that repentance *always* precedes salvation, some translators have added the *will* (future tense) to create continuity and readability between this and other passages.

      it seems to me, though, that this misses the overarching point of the narrative – that jesus has singled out zacchaeus – goes to his house in order to stay with him and honor this dishonored tax collector in the presence of the people who have done the dishonoring. jesus then honors him a second time not arguing against his claim of righteous behavior (think justification or rationalization on the part of zacchaeus), but rather *affirms* it, declaring that no matter what the crowds may think, zacchaeus is indeed a child of abraham – one of the covenantal people, beloved by God.

      contrary to all expectations, this chief tax collector is one of God’s own, and is therefore indeed worthy of hosting the presence of God incarnate.

      jesus is full of surprises – and repeatedly seeks out those who don’t belong – who haven’t measured up and aren’t worthy in the eyes of the religious elite. this story, among others in the gospels, reminds us that we are not the ones who deal out salvation – God is. and while man judges on outward appearances, God sees the heart.

      does that make sense?

      i have no doubt that something changed when zacchaeus encountered jesus – that as a result of the intentional pursuit of the broken and marginalized tax collector by the son of God, that his response *was* one of wanting to live in this new way – but i don’t think that does the point of the passage justice. as i read the text, i am convinced the point is that God, through jesus, is in passionate pursuit of relationship with us – and that his grace and love poured out trump (and fulfill) the law.

      what do you think?

      • Frank

        Thanks Michael I think you hit on some good stuff. Jesus certainly surprised people but he went to the “sinners” house to show that he came not for the righteous.

        The version I posted was NASB.

        I think its problematic to not see this as either a present tense (I have decided now to) or future tense (I will do this in the future.)

        WILL (Gk. diathḗkā).† In New Testament usage Primarily the (Old Testament) “covenant” (the Greek term was used almost exclusively in the LXX for Heb. berîṯ “covenant”). God is depicted as determining the conditions of the relationship between him and his people, which conditions were finally accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus speaks of the blood of the “covenant” (so RSV; Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; cf. “new covenant,” Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; KJV “testament”). By his death Jesus effects the saving will of God. “Will/covenant” was an expression of God’s promise and desire for his people (Luke 1:72; Rom. 9:4; 11:27; Eph. 2:12). The old covenant is mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 3:25), often in contrast to the new (Gal. 4:24–31; Heb. 8:6–13; cf. Jer. 31:31–34; 2 Cor. 3:6). The writer of Hebrews is especially fond of the term, using it seventeen times. In nonbilbical Greek diathḗkē means literally “last will and testament,” …

        Jesus says “And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. “”

        Today suggests that yesterday salvation did not come.

        .Also it does not make logical sense in that if Zacchaeus was already doing those things he would not have been hated.

        All that to be said that you made some good points but I think you ignore the transformation of Zacchaeus.

        But thank you for posting this. Its good to see a good post here. They have been lacking of late.

  • Jonathan

    Calling Zacchaeus a “Son of Abraham” must of been a slap in the face to the Pharisees watching. No wonder they wanted to have him crucified.


    Son of Abraham/Children of God

    John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.


    Romans 9 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

    6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. ….


    John 3:4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


    Romans 2: 25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

    • great verses, jonathan. i absolutely *love* the story of nicodemus, particularly. i wrote about that a few weeks ago here :: || curious as to your thoughts on that story as well?

      • Jonathan

        I enjoy the picture you paint with your words. I like the story on Nicodemus. Thanks.

Read previous post:
Murder in our hearts
Murder in Our Hearts

BY: MORF MORFORD -- If there is anything Christians should never need a reminder of, it is how much God...