Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1. And having entered, he passeth through Jericho. 674 2. And, lo, a man named Zaccheus, and he was chief of the publicans, and was rich. 3. And he sought to see Jesus who he was, 675 and could not on account of the multitude; for he was of small stature. 4. And running before, he climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him; for he was to pass that way. 5. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said to him, Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. 6. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he had gone to lodge with a man who is a sinner. 8. And Zaccheus stood, and said to the Lord, Lo, O Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any man in any thing, I restore fourfold. 676 9. Jesus said to him, Today is salvation come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 677 10. For the Son of man came to seek and save what was lost.
This shows how little attention Luke paid to observing the order of dates; for, after having detailed the miracle, he now relates what happened in the city of Jericho He tells us that, while Christ presented himself to the view of all, as he went along the streets, Zaccheus alone was very desirous to see him. For it was an evidence of intense desire that he climbed up a tree; since rich men are, for the most part, haughty, and plume themselves on affected gravity. It is possible, indeed, that others entertained the same wish, but this man was most properly singled out by Luke, both on account of his rank, and on account of his wonderful conversion, which took place suddenly. Now, though faith was not yet formed in Zaccheus, yet this was a sort of preparation for it; for it was not without a heavenly inspiration that he desired so earnestly to get a sight of Christ; I mean, in reference to that design which immediately appeared. Some were led, no doubt, by vain curiosity to run even from distant places, for the purpose of seeing Christ, but the event showed that the mind of Zaccheus contained some seed of piety. In this manner, before revealing himself to men, the Lord frequently communicates to them a secret desire, by which they are led to Him, while he is still concealed and unknown; and, though they have no fixed object in view, He does not disappoint them, but manifests himself in due time.
5. Zaccheus, make haste, and come down. It is a remarkable instance of favor, that the Lord anticipates Zaccheus, and does not wait for his invitation, but of his own accord asks lodging at his house. We know how hateful, nay, how detestable the name of publican at that time was; and we shall find that this is shortly afterwards mentioned by Luke. It is therefore astonishing kindness in the Son of God to approach a man, from whom the great body of men recoil, and that before he is requested to do so. But we need not wonder, if he bestows this honor on one who was already drawn to him by a secret movement of the Spirit; for it was a more valuable gift to dwell in his heart than to enter his house. But by this expression he made it evident, that he is never sought in vain by those who sincerely desire to know him; for Zaccheus obtained vastly more than he had expected. Besides, the great readiness of Zaccheus to obey, his hastening to come down from the tree, and his joy in receiving Christ, exhibit still more clearly the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit; for, though he did not yet possess a pure faith, yet this submissiveness and obedience must be regarded as the beginning of faith.
7. And when they saw it, they all murmured. The inhabitants of the town — and, perhaps, some of Christ’s followers — murmur that he goes to lodge with a man who is looked upon as wicked and infamous, even though nobody invited him. It is thus that the world disregards the offer of the grace of God, but complains bitterly 678 when it is conveyed to others. But let us consider how unjust this murmuring was. They think it unreasonable that Christ should bestows so great an honor on a wicked man; for in this passage, as in many others, the word sinner is not taken in the ordinary sense, 679 but denotes a man of disgraceful and scandalous life. Let us suppose that Zaccheus was a person of this description. Still, we ought first to inquire for what purpose Christ chose to become his guest; for, while out of doors men are murmuring, within the house God displays magnificently the glory of this name, and refutes their wicked calumny.
The conversion of Zaccheus was an astonishing work of God, and yet there was no good reason why Zaccheus should be marked with infamy. He had the charge of collecting the taxes. Now to collect taxes was no crime in itself, but men of that class were exceedingly despised and hated by the Jews, because they reckoned it to be in the highest degree unjust that they should pay tribute. But whatever might be the character of Zaccheus, still the kindness of Christ ought not to be blamed, but commended, in not refusing his assistance to a wretched man, to rescue him from destruction, and bring him to salvation. And therefore the offense which was wickedly taken did not hinder him from proceeding to execute his Father’s command. With such magnanimity ought all his ministers to be endued, as to think more highly of the salvation of one soul than of the murmurs which all ignorant persons may utter, and not to desist from their duty, even though all their actions and words may expose them to reproaches.
8. And Zaccheus stood, and said. From this result they ought to have formed their opinion of what Christ did; but men are so hasty and precipitate, that they do not take time to wait for God. 680 The conversion of Zaceheus is described by fruits and outward signs. As it was probable that he had enriched himself to the injury of others,
if he had wronged any man, he was ready to restore fourfold. Besides, the half of his goods he dedicates to the poor. A man might indeed bestow all his goods on the poor,
and yet his generosity might be of no value in the sight of God; but, though no mention is here made of inward repentance, yet Luke means that the godly zeal, which he commends in Zaccheus, proceeded from that living root. In like manner, Paul, when treating of repentance, exhorts us to those duties, by which men may learn that we are changed for the better.
Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labor with his hands, that he may assist the poor and needy,
We ought therefore to begin with the heart, but our repentance ought also to be evinced by works.
Now let us observe that Zaccheus does not make a present to God out of his extortions, as many rich men give to God a portion of what they have obtained by dishonesty, that they may the more freely pillage in future, and that they may be acquitted of the wrongs which they have formerly done. But Zaccheus devotes the half of his goods to God in such a manner, as to give, at the same time, compensation for whatever wrongs he has done; and hence we infer that the riches which he possessed were not the fruit of dishonest gain. Thus Zaccheus is not only ready to give satisfaction, if he has taken any thing by fraud, but shares his lawful possessions with the poor; by which he shows that he is changed from a wolf not only into a sheep, but even into a shepherd. And while he corrects the faults which had been formerly committed, he renounces wicked practices for the future, as God demands from his people, first of all, that they abstain from doing any act of injury. Zaccheus has not laid others under obligation, by his example, to strip themselves of the half of their goods; but we have only to observe the rule which the Lord prescribes, that we dedicate ourselves, and all that we have, to holy and lawful purposes.
9. Today is salvation come to this house. Christ, bearing testimony to Zaccheus, declares that his professions were not hypocritical. And yet he does not ascribe to the good works of Zaccheus the cause of salvation; but, as that conversion was an undoubted pledge of the divine adoption, he justly concludes from it that this house is a possessor of salvation Such, to is the import of the words for, since Zaccheus is one of the children of Abraham, he argues that his house is saved. In order that any man may be reckoned among the children of Abraham, it is necessary for him to imitate Abraham’s faith; nay, Scripture expressly bestows on faith this commendation, that it distinguishes the genuine children of Abraham from strangers. Let us therefore know that in Zaccheus faith is chiefly commended, on account of which his good works were acceptable to God. Nor is there reason to doubt that the doctrine of Christ went before the conversion of Zaccheus; and, consequently, the commencement of his salvation was, to hear Christ discoursing on the undeserved mercy of God, and on the reconciliation of men to Him, and on the redemption of the Church, and to embrace this doctrine by faith.
In consequence of the Greek word οἴκος; (house) being of the masculine gender, this passage is explained in two ways. The old translator 681 has made the reference to be to Zaccheus, which I also prefer. 682 Erastians has chosen to render it, inasmuch as The House, itself is a Daughter of Abraham; 683 and although I do not disapprove of this, I think it more natural to explain it as referring to Zaccheus For, since God, when he adopts the head of a family, promises that He will be a God even to his whole house, salvation is, with propriety, extended from the head to the whole body. Now the particle καὶ (also) is emphatic; for Christ means, that Zaccheus, not less than the other Jews who haughtily detested him, is a son of Abraham And that his former life may not seem to have shut against him the gate of salvation, Christ argues from his own office, that there is nothing in this change at which any man ought to take offense, since he was sent by the Father to save those who were lost.
“Estant entre en Iericho, il alloit par la ville;” — “having entered into Jericho, he went through the town.”
“Et taschoit a veoir lequel estoit Iesus;” — “and endeavored to see who Jesus was.”
“I’en rend quatre fois autant;” — “I restore four times as much for it.”
“Poutrtant que ceste-ci aussi est fille d’Abraham, ou, cestuy-ci aussi est fils d’Abraham;” — “because this also is a daughter of Abraham, or, this also is a son of Abraham.”
“Et cependant est envieux et marri;” — “and yet is envious and offended.”
“Et ne signifie pas ce que communeement nous appelons pecheur;” — “and does not mean what we usually call a sinner.”
“Qu’ils n’ont pas la patience d’attendre que Dieu monstre ce qu’il vent faire;” — “that they have not patience to wait till God show what he intends to do.”
“Le translateur Latin ancien;” — “the old Latin translator.”
The question is, whether the antecedent to αὐτός be Ζακχαῖος or ὁ οἴκος. On the former supposition, our English version will be approved HE also (namely, Zaccheus) is a son of Abraham On the latter supposition, the translation will run thus: IT also (namely, the house) is a child of Abraham; or — carrying out the metaphor as Erasmus has done — IT also is a DAUGHTER of Abraham. — Ed
“Eo quod ipsu domus sit filia Abrahae.”