Chapter 19 - Commentary on Luke's Gospel

19:1-10 The Conversion of the leading Tax Collector of Jericho - Turning from a blind beggar in Jericho, Luke now focuses on the chief (not a chief) tax collector in the city. Zacchaeus must have become well known as a member of the Christian community, and perhaps Luke was able to interview him. Luke had previously described how Levi (named "Matthew" in Matthew 10:3) got up from his tax booth and became a disciple of Jesus (Luke 5:27). And we saw how the Pharisees objected to Jesus attending a banquet at Levi's house (Luke 5:30, see 7:34). The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, and the lost brother (15:3-32) were given to answer the Pharisees who were grumbling at the numbers of tax collectors who came to listen to Jesus (Luke 15:1-2). And in the previous chapter we have Jesus' contrast between a Pharisee prayer and the prayer of the penitent tax collector (18:9-14). Evidently the interest of tax collectors in the good news was very important to Luke, and he viewed the conversion of Zacchaeus as the last straw for the Pharisee establishment.

19:1-2 Literally "Having gone into the city, he was in the process of walking through it." Zacchaeus was a very prominent person as the chieftax collector of the city of Jericho and a wealthy man (and he was a good contrast to the rich man in 16:19). He would have had subordinate tax collectors in charge of the toll booths at each entrance to the city. Because of his profession, working on contract for the Romans, he would not have been socially acceptable among the other Jews. This is why he may have avoided mingling with the crowd.

19:3 He had obviously heard about Jesus, and perhaps even knew Levi (Matthew), but had never seen him. The translation "he was trying to see" misses the Greek imperfect "he kept trying to see," as if he had tried to see Jesus before. Being small he could not look over the heads of the crowd, so he climbed a sycamore tree (not the American sycamore, but the large leafy fig mulberry mentioned in 17:6, Amos 7:14). All these details indicate that Luke got the information from an eye-witness, perhaps Zacchaeus himself.

19:5-6 Jesus already knew the man's name, and had decided to stay at his house that day. Jericho was the home of many priests and wealthy business people, so "I must stay at your house" had an important symbolic meaning. Realizing he was known and recognized, Zacchaeus hurried down from the tree and welcomed him. At his conversion Levi gave a great feast (5:29), but here it seems Zacchaeus is overjoyed to have Jesus come and talk to him alone.

19:7 We can imagine the disapproval of the crowd. "How can a prophet go to the home of the hated chief tax collector of our city?"

19:8 It seems that Zacchaeus got up from his conversation and stood to address God in prayer. He did not give away all his possessions (see notes on 12:33, 18:22), but the giving of half of what he owned to poor must have surprised the whole city. Even more astonishing would be Zacchaeus looking for those he had defrauded and paying them four times what he had overcharged them (by the law voluntary restitution required only one fifth to be added to what had been defrauded, Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:7). In spite of their initial disapproval (19:7), some of the defrauded citizens of Jericho must have been impressed.

19:9 Jesus was able to assure this man who had felt so despised and rejected that he was a true Jew, a son of Abraham (see 3:8, 13:16). And Jesus added that he and his household had been welcomed into the Kingdom (see the household baptisms in Acts 2:39, 16:15, 16:33, 1 Corinthians 7:14).

19:10 The seeking and saving echoes the parable of the prodigal son (15:24, 32).

19:11-27 The Parable of the Pounds - In the parable of the talents (Matthew25:14-30) the money to invest was given "to each according to his ability" (Matthew 25:15). Here each servant is given the same one pound. What counts is what use they made of what they were given. In both versions of the parable (probably told on many occasions in different settings) the servants are free to invest what they have been given in any way they choose (a ship to collect spices from India, a camel train to Damascus, a warehouse, a peanut stand in Jerusalem). But obviously it is not capitalistic money making that God is interested in. The business and the currency of the Kingdom is love. It is as if Jesus says to each of us "You decide how and where to invest the love pound I have given you in any way you choose. But the one thing you must not do is hide your love wrapped up carefully in a piece of cloth (19:22).

19:11-12 A huge crowd was now following Jesus (18:36) and they imagined Jesus as Messiah was immediately going to drive out the Romans. So he compares himself to a nobleman who has been appointed to reign as king. While he is going to be away he gives ten of his servants (doulos can mean either a slave or a servant) one mna (the equivalent of three months' wages) for each to invest (conduct or engage in business) in any way they chose.

19:14 The servants are contrasted with the citizens of that country who do not want this person to reign as king over them. The citizens evidently refer to the Jewish people who did not want to have Jesus as their Messiah (see note on 19:27).

19:15-19 When the nobleman returns as King he wants to know how each has succeeded in his investment. One had made ten times what he had been given to invest, and so was appointed in charge of an area with ten cities. A second made five times what he was given, and was appointed over five cities. This suggests that the reward of faithfulness is greater opportunities of service (as explained in 19:26).

19:20-21 One of the ten servants was too scared to risk investing the money and losing it, so he kept the coin wrapped up safely in a piece of cloth (the word is used in Acts 19:12)..

19:22-23 The words in the form of the parable preserved by Matthew were "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest" (Matthew 25:26-27). Again we have an example of the hyperbole (exaggeration used for effect) we have noted in previous chapters (see note on 18:25, as in Matthew 5:29, 30). God is not literally in the stock market wanting interest from his investment. He leaves us free to love in any way we choose, but a total refusal to care for others in any way whatsoever is dealt with very seriously (19:24, "as for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness" Matthew 25:30, which does not mean sending him to eternal damnation, but it certainly means exclusion from a share in the work of the Kingdom).

19:25-26 The man who has made ten pounds by wise investing (19:16) is given the pound which the worthless servant did not use. The principle is that the more we use our capacity for learning and loving the more love we are given to invest (as in 8:18, Matthew 13:12, Mark 4:25). .

19:27 Jesus has distinguished those who serve him in his Kingdom from the citizens of the country of which he is the rightful King, in this case the Jewish nation (19:13-14). The terrible judgment of the Messiah Son of God when he comes to destroy Jerusalem is pictured in the parable of the vineyard (20:15-16) and the detailed prophecy of the events of AD 70 (21:20-32, as in Matthew 23:35-36, 24:21, 29-30).

19:28-48 The entry into Jerusalem - Having made clear that he is the rightful King of the Jewish nation, the Messiah chooses a young donkey to ride on into the city of Jerusalem on a final mission of peace. Already he is weeping over the inevitable destruction of the city (19:41-44). But in a last warning he makes clear the reasons for the destruction of the temple. Instead of being house of prayer for all nations, the temple has become a place of greedy exploitation that makes genuine prayer impossible. This would be the last opportunity for the religious leaders to change course. The ordinary people of the city listened to Jesus spellbound, but the only agenda of their leaders was to have him killed.

19:28 The final journey to Jerusalem had passed through "the region between Samaria and Galilee" (17:11), and then down into the Jordan valley through Jericho (18:35, 19:1). Now he came up the Jericho road towards Jerusalem.

19:29-30 Bethphage was viewed as a suburb of Jerusalem, and it was the last village coming up the Jericho road on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. Having decided to ride into the city, he chose the young donkey which he had seen growing up in the home in Bethany that he knew so well (see note on 10:38-39). A king moving in to attack a city in war would ride a horse. Riding a donkey was a sign of coming in on a peaceful mission.

19:31-34 When the two disciples began untying the colt to bring it to Jesus, the owners (presumably Martha and Mary) were satisfied with the explanation "the Lord needs it." It was decided that it would be best for the unbroken colt to be accompanied by the mother donkey (Matthew 21:2-5).

19:35-36 The disciples put their cloaks on the unbroken colt, and the animal was totally docile and willing to be ridden into the city over the clothes and branches strewed in the road (Matthew 21:8, John 12:13) and the shouting of the crowd. Evidently this young animal recognized the authority of his rider.

19:37-38 Large numbers of Jesus' disciples who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee, and others who came out to meet him from among the Passover crowds, broke into songs of praise as they recounted all the "deeds of power" that they had witnessed. "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven" picks up the song of the shepherds (2:14), but the crowd was probably singing the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 118:19-29.

19:39-40 This was not at all the scenario the Pharisees had in mind, and they told Jesus to stop this Messianic acclamation. "The stones would shout out" is metaphorical (as in Habbakuk 2:11) for "Nothing could silence this praise."

19:41-42 As the procession came round the east side of the Mount of Olives the city of Jerusalem and its temple came into view, Jesus broke into tears (see 13:34) over the blindness of the religious leaders who were rejecting their Messiah's final mission of peace (see note on the donkey he rode in 19:30).

19:43-44 This is one of several prophecies of the siege and destruction (AD 70) of the city in that generation (13:35, 17:25-30, 19:27, 21:6, 23-24, see also Matthew 21:39-41, 23:35, 24:2, 21, 28, 33-34, Mark 13:2, 24, 30). When the siege began (AD 68) the Romans built ramparts around the walls so that nobody could come or go. The word "visitation" means a coming to deal with a situation, and it makes clear that Jesus viewed the destruction of the temple as his coming to judge the city of Jerusalem (see the word "coming" in Matthew 24:27, 30, 33, 37, 42, 44, 46, 50).

19:45-46 Jesus arrived in the temple on the Sunday, looked around (Mark 11:11) and went back for the next four nights to stay with his friends in Bethany, half an hour's walk just over the other side of the Mount of Olives (Luke 21:37-38). The clearing of the temple was the next morning (Mark 11:11, 15). This was the second time the temple was cleared (John 2:13-17) but the religious authorities had ignored the first warning and reverted to business as usual. The first part of this quotation is from Isaiah 56:7, and second part from Jeremiah 7:11. The Jewish authorities were given another 40 years to change course, but the third clearing of the temple was by the destruction of the city (AD 70), and the exile of Jews for the city for 1900 years till our own day.

19:47-48 Every day he went into the temple early in the morning to teach (Luke 21:38, Matthew 21:17, 23) and "the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching" (Mark 11:18). The authorities were looking for any opportunity to have him killed, but the approval of the crowd made that impossible until the betrayal of Judas and the arrest at night on the Thursday after the last supper (see note about the timing in relation to the Passover under 22:7).

Chapter 20 .....