Luke 19

The Word Made Fresh

1As he was passing through Jericho, 2a rich man named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, 3tried to see who Jesus was. But he was a short man, and he couldn’t see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead to a place where Jesus would pass and climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view. 5When Jesus passed, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down. I’m going to stay at your house today.”

6Zacchaeus hurried down to welcome him. 7People in the crowd began to grumble. They said, “Jesus is going to be the guest of a sinner.”

8But Zacchaeus said to the Lord, “See, Lord, half of everything I own I will give to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone I will repay him four times as much.”

9Jesus said, “Salvation has found its way to this house today, for he is a son of Abraham as well. 10And the Son of Man has come to find and rescue the lost.”

11The crowds heard him say this, and then he told them a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they were certain that the kingdom of God was coming right away. 12He said, “A nobleman prepared to go to a far country to receive an appointment to royalty. 13He called together ten of his servants and gave each of them coins equivalent to three months wages. He told them, ‘Do business with this money until I return.’ 14But the citizens in that place hated him, and after he left they sent a group to tell the servants, ‘We don’t want this man to rule us.’ 15When he returned, having been given the royal appointment, he summoned the servants to learn what success they might have had doing business. 16The first came and said, ‘Lord, the money you gave me is now worth ten times more!’ 17The nobleman said, ‘Well done. You are a good servant indeed, and because you have been trustworthy over a small thing, I’m putting you in charge of ten towns.’ 18The second servant then came and said, ‘Lord, what you gave is now worth five times as much.’ 19He replied, ‘Very well; you will be in charge of five towns.’ 20The third came and said, ‘Lord, here is your money. I saved all of it, wrapped up in a cloth 21because I was afraid of you. You are a demanding man. You take what you yourself didn’t deposit and you reap what you yourself didn’t sow.’ 22The man replied, ‘You will be judged by your own words, you worthless servant. So, you knew that I am a demanding man? That I take what I didn’t invest, and I reap what I didn’t sow? 23Then why didn’t you invest my money in the bank so that when I returned I could at least have earned interest? 24Then he turned to those who were standing by and said, ‘Take the money from him and give it to the one who now has ten coins. 25They said, ‘But Lord, he already has ten coins!’ 25He answered, ‘Those who have will be given more, but those who have little or nothing will have even that taken away. 26But as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to rule them, bring them here and put them to death in my presence.’”

28Then Jesus went on ahead, toward Jerusalem. 29When he neared Bethphage and Bethany and came to the Mt. of Olives he sent two of his disciples ahead. 30He told them, “Go into the village ahead and as you enter it you will see a colt tied there, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone questions what you’re doing, tell them, ‘The Lord has need of it.’”

32So, they left him and found everything as he had said. 33As they were untying the colt its owners asked, “Why are you untying it?” 34They said, “The Lord needs it.”

35Then they brought the colt to Jesus. They threw their cloaks over it and Jesus sat on it. 36As he rode along, people kept spreading clothes on the road. 37He approached the path down from the Mt. of Olives, and all the disciples began to praise God joyfully in a loud voice, inspired by all the powerful deeds they had witnessed. 38They chanted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the Lord’s name! Peace in heaven! Glory in the highest heaven!”

39There were some Pharisees in the crowd, and they called out to him, “Teacher, command your disciples to pipe down!”

40Jesus replied, “If they were silent, even the stones would shout it out.”

41As they neared the city, when Jesus saw it he wept over it 42and said, “If only you recognized today what makes peace possible! But that is hidden from your eyes. 43Surely the day is coming when your enemies will build ramps around you and surround you and block you in on every side.44They will throw you and your children to the ground, and they won’t leave you until not one stone is left upon another, all because you didn’t recognize the time of your visitation.”

45Then he went into the temple and began to chase out those who were selling things. 46He said “It is written, ‘My house shall be house of prayer,’ but you’ve made it a gathering place for thieves.”

47Every day he taught in the temple. The chief priests, experts in the law of Moses, and government leaders looked for a way to have him killed, 48but couldn’t find any way to do it because all the people were spellbound by what he said.


1-10: Everything we know about Zacchaeus, the enigmatic tax collector of Jericho, is contained in this brief passage. Out of these ten verses we have an enormous amount of commentary and speculation and a cute children’s song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man.” We are told four simple facts about him: He was a head, or chief, tax collector, an administrator with others working under him. He was wealthy. He was shorter than the average citizen of Jericho. He was Jewish, a descendant of Abraham. We can deduce a few other details. His position probably means he was not a very young man, and his agility (he climbed a tree!) probably means he was not of an advanced age nor grossly obese as the very rich tended to be. The arrival of Jesus to Jericho prompts Zacchaeus to declare radical changes into the kind of person the LORD wants him to be.

11-27: At first glance verses 14 and 27 seem out of place, serving only to unnecessarily complicate the story. However, they introduce an historical note Luke’s first readers would have recognized. In 4 B.C. Herod the Great died, leaving his kingdom divided between his three sons, Herod Antipas, Herod Philip, and Archelaus. Archelaus actually made a trip to Rome to secure his portion of the inheritance. The Jews sent an embassy to inform the emperor that they did not want Archelaus as their king. We don’t know what became of those who opposed him, but Caesar Augustus did indeed confirm Archelaus as the new king of Judea. Other elements of the parable are curious also. The ruler leaves ten servants in charge of ten portions of his financial holdings, clearly to test their business acumen. Two of them do well, a third does poorly, but the other seven are left out of the reckoning altogether!

But here is the real problem for me: Who is the Christ figure in the parable? Is Christ the ruler who is merciless and cruel? Or is Christ represented by those who oppose the ruler and lose their lives because of their opposition? The usual explanation is that the ruler who receives the kingdom is the Christ figure, that Christ is going away for a while, leaving his kingdom to his servants, the Church, and that Christ is going to return and judge how well we’ve done with our stewardship. To me this explanation hangs a bit loosely, but after weeks of grappling with these sixteen verses I have found no better one. Perhaps Luke’s intention is to show how Jesus consistently steers his followers away from assuming an immediate end to the existing world order, and to resolve to be faithful in the meantime.

28-40: We see now that Jesus has carefully planned his entrance into Jerusalem by arranging to have a colt ready to carry him. The prophet Zechariah wrote, “See, your king is coming, triumphant and riding on a donkey; a colt, the offspring of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9), and Jesus acts out that prophecy. He sends two of his followers to fetch the donkey, and apparently also explains to his followers what is expected of them. He enters the city amid their shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” There really can be no question but that Jesus, entering the city in this way, is proclaiming himself to be the Messiah. To people present at the time, of course, the declaration may not be so obvious — a man entering the city on a donkey was not an uncommon sight. This is so like Jesus! To take the common and make it uncommon; to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary — water, wine, bread, fish, and fishermen.

41-44: Luke is the only writer to give us this snapshot of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. Coming down the Mount of Olives he could see the city’s future; the siege works being erected, the walls being breached and the Roman soldiers destroying the buildings stone by stone. If you go to Jerusalem today and visit the Wailing Wall you will be standing before the only structure that remained standing after the Roman attack in 70 A.D. to put down an armed rebellion.

45-48: All four gospels tell of this incident. Luke’s is the briefest account. He mentions only “those who were selling things.” When Jesus enters the temple, it is not into a building but into the outer courtyard where thousands are gathered. His display of holy anger would certainly not have gone unnoticed.


Jesus went to Jerusalem to die. He knew that. He went anyway. He spent his last week teaching people about the kingdom of God. If we live as he lived, with courage and selfless devotion to God, it doesn’t matter how much we struggle. The world may wear us down, but God will raise us up. So, if you’re going through a difficult time, take courage. The purest human who ever lived suffered, too. The best life is always out there ahead of us, and awaits us in the company of those who have lived in faith before us.