(1) And passed through Jericho.—Better, and was passing through. The narrative that follows is peculiar to this Gospel.
The chief among the publicans.—The position of Jericho near the fords of the Jordan made it a natural trade-centre for the imports from the Gilead country—myrrh and balsam. Under the government of Herod and Archelaus it had become once more a city of palm-trees (Judges 1:16), and their dates and palm-honey were probably liable to an octroi duty. The “farming” system adopted in the Roman revenue probably gave Zacchæus the status of a middle-man or sub-contractor between the great capitalists of the equestrian order at Rome, the real publicani, and the “publicans” commonly so called, who were the actual collectors. As such he had as abundant opportunities for enriching himself as a Turkish pacha, and, as we may infer from his own words, had probably not altogether escaped the temptations of his calling.
For the press.—The word is the same as that elsewhere rendered “multitude” or “crowd.” The motive is left to be inferred. It was not mere curiosity, for that would not have met with the Lord’s warm approval. Had he heard that there was a publican like himself among the chosen disciples of the Teacher whom the people were receiving as the Son of David? Had some one told him of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican? Had the fame of the miracle wrought on the entrance into Jericho made him eager to see the Worker?
He was little of stature.—The individualising feature may be accepted, in connection with what follows, either as a touch of consummate art, or a note of artless truthfulness.
With a man that is a sinner.
The half of my goods I give . .—It seems more natural to see in this the statement of a new purpose than that of an habitual practice. In the absence of any words implying a command of this nature, we must assume either that it was a spontaneous impulse of large-hearted devotion, or, possibly, that Zacchæus had heard of the command given but a few days before to the young ruler (Luke 18:22). The promise implies immediate distribution. The compensation for wrongs that men might have suffered at his hands was to come out of the remaining half.
If I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation.—The seven words of the English text are all needed to express the one Greek word, the same as that in Luke 3:14, where see Note. It is a pity that English usage, and the modern meaning of the words, do not allow us to say, “If I have sycophanted any man.” Conscience probably reproached Zacchæus with not a few of such acts of spoliation in the past. The Greek phrase, “If I have taken anything,” hardly implies doubt as to the fact, and is used like our English “wherever.”
I restore him fourfold.—Here, also, it seems best to recognise in the words a new purpose. He is ready to compensate now for whatever wrong had been done before. There seems, indeed, something almost ludicrously incongruous in a devout man boasting that his rule of life is to make amends to those whom he deliberately cheats, and the special force of the verb practically excludes the idea of involuntary wrong.
The Law required in cases of voluntary restitution the addition of one-fifth of the value of the thing restored (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:6-7).
The whole force of the history seems lost if we suppose Zacchæus, as some have done, to have been a model of a virtuous publican before he sought to see Jesus. On that supposition his words are like those of the Pharisee in the parable, a self-righteous boast. The strivings of repentance must, indeed, have begun before, and the man, when he welcomed our Lord’s presence, and trusted His words, was “justified by faith.” Is it too utterly bold a conjecture that He who saw Nathanael under the fig-tree (John 1:48), had seen Zacchæus in the Temple, and that the figure in the parable of Luke 18:14, was in fact a portrait?
Should immediately appear.—Better, perhaps, should be shown forth, or manifested. The Greek word is not used by any other New Testament writer. It is clear, from the tenor of the parable, that disciples and multitude were alike dwelling on the greatness to which they were to attain, on the high places in store for them on the right hand and on the left, rather than on their work and their duties in relation to that Kingdom of God.
Occupy till I come.—The better MSS. give, “while I am coming.” The Greek verb for “occupy” occurs in this passage only in the New Testament. A compound form of it is rendered, in Luke 19:15, by “gained in trading.” The English verb meets us in Ezekiel 27:9; Ezekiel 27:16; Ezekiel 27:21-22, in the sense of “trading,” in which it is used here. (See also the Prayer Book version of Psalm 107:23.)
Had gained by trading.—The Greek verb is a compound form of that translated “occupy” in Luke 19:13.
Have thou authority over ten cities.—The truth implied in Matthew 25:21 (where see Note), that the reward of faithfulness in this life, and probably in the life to come, will be found in yet wider opportunities for work in God’s service, is stated here with greater distinctness. “Authority over ten cities” must have something corresponding to it, some energy and work of guidance, in the realities of the unseen world, and cannot simply be understood as fulfilled in the beatific vision or the life of ceaseless praise and adoration.
Laid up in a napkin.—The smaller scale of the parable is shown in the contrast between this and the “hiding the talent in the earth,” in St. Matthew. The “napkin” (the Greek word is really Latin, sudarium) appears in Acts 19:12 as “handkerchiefs.” Such articles were naturally, then as now, used for wrapping up and concealing money which the owner wished simply to hoard.
That at my coming I might have required . . .—Literally, And when I came I should have got it with interest.
Usury.—The word is used (as in Matthew 25:27) in its older meaning, as including interest of any kind, and not exclusively that which we call usurious.
The journey from Jericho to Jerusalem was literally an ascent all the way (see Note on Luke 10:30), and in this sense, as well as following the language common to most nations, in speaking of their capitals, the verb might well be used. The English word “ascend,” however, is not used elsewhere in the New Testament of any earthly journeys.
To praise God.—The Greek verb is another instance of a word used by St. Luke (seven times) and St. Paul (twice), and by them only in the New Testament.
All the mighty works . . .—Literally, powers, and so works of power. The words probably refer to the recent miracle at Jericho (Luke 18:35-43; Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52), and, as interpreted by St. John’s Gospel, the recent raising of Lazarus.
The stones would immediately cry out.—The startling imagery had a precedent in the language of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 2:11), “The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.”
The things which belong unto thy peace.—Literally, the things that make for, or tend to, peace. The Greek is the same as that translated “conditions of peace” in Luke 14:32 (where see Note); in this case, obviously, the “things that make for peace” are repentance, reformation, righteousness.
Now they are hid.—The Greek tense implies, by a distinction hard to express in English, in conjunction with the adverb “now,” that the concealment of the things that made for the peace of Jerusalem, was a thing completed in the past.
Shall cast a trench about thee.—The Greek substantive means primarily a stake, then the “stockade” or “palisade” by which the camp of a besieging army was defended, then the earth-work upon which the stockade was fixed. In the latter case, of course, a trench was implied, but the word meant the embankment rather than the excavation. The better MSS. give for “cast” a verb which more distinctly conveys the idea of an encampment.
The time of thy visitation.—The phrase is not found in any other Gospel. The idea of “visitation” presents two aspects, one of pardon (Luke 1:68; Luke 1:78; Luke 7:16), the other of chastisement (1 Peter 2:12). In both, however, the act of “visiting” implied looking after, caring for, and so a purpose of mercy. Modern usage—especially, perhaps, the common legal phrase of a man’s dying by the “visitation of God,” of sickness being “His visitation”—has given undue prominence to the latter thought. Here it appears to include both. The Christ had visited it first with a message of peace. Then came the discipline of suffering, and Jerusalem knew not how to make a right use of either.
The chief of the people.—Literally, the first of the people. The word is the same as in Mark 6:21, for “the chief estates” of Galilee. Here, apparently, it denotes those who, whether members of the Sanhedrin or not, were men of mark—notables, as it were—among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. As to the purpose ascribed to them, see Note on Mark 11:18.