Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 19:1-10

Luk 19:1  And entering he walked through Jericho.

As our Lord was approaching Jericho, He cured “the blind man” (18:35). Here, is a continuous description of our Lord’s journey. Near Jericho, He cured the blind man; in Jericho, He converts Zaccheus; He wastes not a moment of His time; He seizes every opportunity, and seeks for every befitting occasion of doing good.

“He walked,” that is, walking, He was passing through Jericho.

Luk 19:2  And behold, there was a man named Zacheus, who was the chief of the publicans: and he was rich.

“And behold.” This calls attention to what follows, as a great and wonderful occurrence. “There was,” &c. He describes the man by name, Zaccheus; by his profession, “Chief of the Publicans;” by his possessions, “he was rich.”

Some say, that Zaccheus was a Gentile, which they infer from v. 9, “he also is a son,” &c. Others hold he was a Jew. The very name itself is Hebrew, signifying, pure, just. This seems more probable. The reason for the opposite opinion will be explained in v. 9.

“Chief of the Publicans.” (See Matthew 9:11.) If Zaccheus was a Gentile, he may be regarded as one of the Roman knights, or Maneipes, who farmed the public revenues. This class was held in high estimation (Cicero, Oratio 9, pro Plancio). These had under them, in the several provinces, a class of inferior collectors, generally natives of the country. The latter were regarded with the greatest horror among the Jews (loco citato). If he was a Jew, then, the designation, “chief of the Publicans,” denotes that, while he shared in the odium of the local collectors, he might be looked upon as a kind of middleman—or contractor—(Ellicott), between the Roman knights, who farmed the revenues, and the lower class of Publicans, who actually collected them, and in doing so harassed and oppressed the people. It denotes what we might term a Commissioner of the Customs (Kitto).

“And he was rich.” This is added, to denote the sacrifices he made in giving up his profession, and the difficulty in effecting his conversion (18:24).

Luk 19:3  And he sought to see Jesus who he was: and he could not for the crowd, because he was low of stature.

“He sought to see Jesus, who He was.” The fame of our Lord was everywhere spread abroad. Zaccheus, having never seen Him, was anxious to know Him by personal appearance, and see what kind of person He was. But as our Lord was accompanied by a large crowd of people, who pressed closely around Him, Zaccheus could not succeed on account of his lowness of stature. His anxious desire to see our Lord arose, probably, not from curiosity. He seemed quite disposed and prepared to believe in Him, of whose miracles and marvellous works he heard so much.

Luk 19:4  And running before, he climbed up into a sycamore tree, that he might see him: for he was to pass that way.

Hence, “running before” Him, forgetful of his dignity, his riches, and the ridicule with which, no doubt, the crowd would be glad to overpower a “chief of Publicans,” he climbed up a Sycamore tree, which grew on the public road, by which our Redeemer was to pass, in order to get a glimpse at Him. “Sycamore,” which differs from Sycamine (17:6), denotes a species of tree, called “the Egyptian fig tree,” composed of a fig tree (συκος) and a mulberry tree (μωρος). It partakes of the nature of both; of the mulberry in its leaves, and of the fig tree in its fruit, which is like a fig in its shape and size. The fruit grows neither in clusters, nor at the end of the branches, but sticking to the end of the tree (Calmet—Pliny, Lib. 13, c. 7). Sycamore trees were very common in Palestine, especially in the low-lying valleys of the Jordan, where they grew to a considerable height. (2 Kings 10:27; 2 Chron 1:15; Amos 7)

Luk 19:5  And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, he saw him and said to him: Zacheus, make haste and come down: for this day I must abide in thy house.

“Looking up,” not casually, but by a lofty decree of Divine counsel, “He saw him,” not merely by the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of Divine mercy, which penetrated His inmost soul, and inspired Him with sentiments of true compunction and sorrow. Addressing him by name, whom He never saw before, He says: “Zaccheus, make haste and come down,” as if to say, thou hast ascended the tree in great haste; come down with the same haste.

“For, this day, I must abide,” in virtue of My benevolent charity towards yourself and your entire household. I have decreed to select your “house,” in preference to all the others in Jericho for My dwelling place this day. Zaccheus had, in soul and affection, offered Him a cordial invitation and welcome. “Promittit Christus se ad ejus domum venturum cujus desiderantis jam possederat animum” (St. Chrysostom, Hom. de Zaccheo); “Etsi vocem invitantis Jesus non audierat, viderat tamen affectum” (St. Ambrose). How long our Lord remained as Zaccheus’ guest, we cannot know for certain. Likely, He remained there for the greater part of the day, if not for the night.

Luk 19:6  And he made haste and came down and received him with joy.

“He makes no delay;” “tarda molimina nescit gratia spiritus sancti” (St. Ambrose). “Joyfully,” with great spiritual joy, on account of the unspeakable honour bestowed on him, which fully satisfied his longings to receive his Lord.

Luk 19:7  And when all saw it, they murmured, saying, that he was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner.

“When all,” &c., that is the crowd, among whom, doubtless, were some Pharisees and their adherents, also some Scribes. All held Publicans in unutterable horror and aversion. “They murmured,” as was their wont. from a feeling of self-righteousness and pride.

“A man that was a sinner,” a leader in the traffic of iniquity—a man of infamous profession. The Publicans were regarded in this light by the Jews. Zaccheus’ profession, or calling, was regarded as disgraceful among the Jews, and placed men on a level with the unbelieving heathens. Zaccheus, it would seem, was not above the temptations to rapacity and injustice, which the exercise of his office presented (v. 8).

Luk 19:8  But Zacheus standing, said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wronged any man of any thing, I restore him fourfold.

“Standing,” that is, commencing suddenly to speak—similar is the phrase “stetit et ait” (10:40)—he thus addressed our Lord, in refutation of the crowd, who, probably, may have overheard him thus speaking, when our Lord entered his house, or, when He was leaving it. Others, take “standing,” literally, to denote his respectful and earnest attitude in presence of His Master. It is likely, that our Lord had, on entering the house of Zaccheus, delivered heavenly maxims, as was His went, on all occasions, regarding the several obligations of life, and the practice of all Christian virtues, uprightness and honesty amongst the rest, and that this elicited from him the following declaration.

“Behold,” as if to solicit attention to a matter deserving of admiration. He divides his goods into two parts, the first half to the poor; and thus, he would redeem his sins by mercy to the poor. “The half of my goods, I give to the poor.” “I give,” that is, am prepared and determined to “give,” to relieve the wants of the “poor,” and I now assign them for that purpose. This shows the thorough conversion of Zaccheus, and his resolution to practise the counsel of perfection, which, doubtless he heard, was given to the rich young man (chap. 18:22), a few days before. The remaining half of his property he reserves for the purpose of making the amplest restitution.

“And if I have wronged any man of any thing.” The Greek word for “wronged”—εσυκοφαντησα—means, to injure by false information, under threat of which money was often extorted (see chap. 3:14). He reserves the second half of his goods, not for himself, but to discharge amply the obligation of restitution, which the Publicans were generally liable to, owing to unjust exactions. “If,” does not imply doubt; it signifies, whatsoever injury I have done fraudulently to any man.

“I restore him fourfold.” So as not only to give back the amount taken, but more than amply compensate for any loss that may accrue to him from loss of property, lucrum cessans et damnum emergens. From his giving one-half his property to the poor, which must have been justly acquired—this is contradistinguished from the substance acquired fraudulently—and his giving back, restoring four times more than he unjustly possessed, it is clear, the most part of Zaccheus’ goods were justly acquired. His disinterestedness in divesting himself of the most of his property, to which men of his class were so inordinately attached, shows the thorough sincerity of his conversion. The law of Moses commanded restitution to a fourfold amount, only in case of stealth of sheep, and fivefold in case of the stealth of oxen (Exodus 22:1). But this did not apply to Zaccheus, whose unjust acquisitions were in money. In cases of voluntary restitution in other matters, the law required restitution of one-fifth in addition to the value of the principal (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:6, 7). But Zaccheus went far beyond the requirements of the law, and proved by his acts the sincerity of his conversion. His words have not reference to the past. They contain no boasting of his past merits, as in the case of the proud Pharisee. They merely express his present resolve, as the effect of God’s grace and our Saviour’s visit, in regard to the future; and they convey an atonement for the blasphemies of the proud Pharisees, and tend to justify our Lord’s act, in dwelling with him, who shows himself to be different from what they charged him to be. Hence, he speaks only of his future acts, inspired by God’s grace, and out of necessity, in reply to the taunts of the proud Pharisees.

Luk 19:9  Jesus said to him: This day is salvation come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham.

“Jesus said to him.” The particle “to,” is interpreted by many to mean, of, or regarding him, to those present, as in Rom. 10, “ad Israel dicit,” that is, de Israel; “multi dicunt animæ meaæ,” that is, de anima mea; “non est salus ipsi in Deo ejus.”

“This day is salvation come to this house.” “This day,” shows that it was not of his past acts, but his present resolves, Zaccheus was speaking. “Salvation,” the fulness of faith, abundance of grace, thorough perfect conversion, not alone to Zaccheus himself, but to the entire family, in reward for the disinterested charity, and truly generous conduct of the head of the family, whose example they followed. Our Lord made his entire household, who, probably, may have been sharers in his sins of injustice, partakers of his abundant justification. They, too, received the grace of faith and justification, with the chief of the house.

“Because he also is a son of Abraham.” This may mean, that being one of Abraham’s carnal descendants, our Lord, who was sent first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, felt He was only exercising the duties of His office, in visiting him and converting him, the unjust murmurs of the crowd notwithstanding. According to this interpretation, the proximate reason of his conversion is not assigned. His conversion was not caused by his being one of the carnal descendants to Abraham, many of whom were left in their sins; in these words, a reason is assigned only for our Lord’s visiting and staying with him.

It may mean, that whether Jew or Gentile, he has proved himself to be a real spiritual son of Abraham, one of the sons of promise, for whom alone the inheritance of justification is reserved.

Some hold, that Zaccheus was a Gentile. But besides, that the word is of Jewish origin, signifying, pure, the crowd would have loudly reproached our Lord with having chosen the house of an unbelieving Gentile for His abode, if he were such, as was done in regard to Peter, even by the faithful, after having received the Holy Ghost. Nor are the words of this verse, “because he also, &c.,” opposed to this; “also,” although a Publican, and seeming out cast from religious society; or, “also,” as well as the others who believed in Me, and imitated the faith of Abraham. Moreover, if he were a Gentile, our Lord would hardly say in the presence of the multitude at this stage, when they were not prepared for it, that a Gentile was a son of Abraham, although he might be such, in a true spiritual sense (Gal. 3:9).

Luk 19:10  For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

“For the Son of Man,” &c. In this, our Lord, redargues the murmuring crowd, by referring to His office, in coming into this world. He came to save the lost one especially, and in the first place, the lost ones of the house of Israel, such as Zaccheus was. This passage is read very appropriately in the Mass of the Dedication of Churches, to which it is very applicable. To churches dedicated and set apart for the oblation of the adorable sacrifice, the words will literally apply; “this day I must abide” (and abide permanently) “in thy house.” “This day, salvation is come to this house,” where the Lord of Glory deigns to dwell, in order to bestow on all who approach Him there, the abundance of all spiritual blessings.

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One Response to Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 19:1-10

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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