The Invitation of Today 


Luke 19:1-10

Sunday 30 October 2022

                                                    ©Suzanne Grimmett

“Today, salvation has come to this house.”

It is a proclamation of Jesus, but how are we to understand it? What change can we hope for when salvation arrives?

There are bleak and desolate times in our lives when as people of faith who find truth and meaning in Christ, we look to salvation as being the promise of the hereafter. In the Middle Ages abject poverty and bouts of plague meant that life beyond death became the hope when there was little to be found on earth, and we see depicted everywhere in the art of the era. For people in any age who know acute suffering, the peace promised in heaven of no more pain and no more tears becomes understandably the way that salvation is imagined. Jesus did understand this, and he showed grief in his own earthly life, as well as reaching out with compassion to heal and pointing to eternity as the horizon 

But…Jesus again and again also pointed to the salvation he brought as being not something about the hereafter so much as it is an invitation for the here and now. “Today” was a word Jesus liked to use. The first time we hear it is when Jesus opens the Isaiah scroll in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry and declares, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” As Jesus enjoys the hospitality of Zacchaeus, we hear again the immediacy of the promise. Salvation is apparently something present and available to us always in each moment.

If that is true, then we often live our lives unaware. More than that, we can tacitly believe the lie that we can work our way to some kind of salvation through money or power or success or even religious piety.

Zacchaeus, the little man in our Gospel, was clearly not satisfied with the answers of his life and was searching for more. He was trying to see Jesus but the crowd wilfully or accidentally excluded him so he did the only thing he could. He could not see, but he made sure he was seen. He climbed a tree.

Sometimes we think we have to do a lot to be worthy.

Mary Oliver protests in her famous poem, Wild Geese;

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

Whenever we think like this, we are not paying attention to the holy invitation of grace but rather conforming to that desolate but mundanely familiar spirit that whispers that everything must be earned. Zacchaeus found the courage to let himself be seen and salvation came to his house that day.

This story can be read through two different lenses.

First, you might imagine yourself as Zacchaeus;

You are excluded and despised by your own people for being an agent of the Roman empire…prone to the occasional temptation of taking more than you should from the empire’s taxes. Jesus is someone you long to see, however, so you accept the rejection of the gathering crowd and climb the tree. To your surprise Jesus not only sees you but comes towards you and invites himself into your house! You realise intuitively that in coming to your house Jesus is inviting you to the kind of vulnerability that means throwing open the doors of your inner self to be transformed by the presence of the Christ. Jesus wants to dwell with you and you will not be left unchanged. The joy of being seen and the invitation to be liberated from all that has held you in a small little life moves you to cry, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” You have discovered the prison that hoarding is and the freedom that lies in giving of yourself and your wealth.

Or else you might imagine yourself as the crowd. There is Zacchaeus…everyone knows he is a sinner and you do your best to keep him out of sight. He is, after all, a betrayer of your people, and by extension, a betrayer of God. You are therefore pretty disappointed when Jesus singles him out and not only that… eats with him! Surely if this man was the Messiah he would know how compromised it makes him to accept the hospitality of such a man. And then you hear Zacchaeus say…‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I  give to the poor; and if I defraud anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much.’

I pause in the imaginings here to notice the change in the text. Most of our translations say, “I will give to the poor” and “I will pay back.” However, the verbs in the original Greek text are in the present tense, declaring that this is not something Zacchaeus will do, but something he already does! “I give to the poor…I pay back” In this reading, it is not Zacchaeus who needs to undergo the conversion but the crowd who have judged and excluded him just for his role of tax collector, even though he was already working within the bounds of all laws, both Roman and religious.

So as you return to your place in the crowd, watching Jesus attend to Zacchaeus and eat in his house, maybe you realise the judgments you are making about the tax collector and so many others who have not conformed to your idea of who should be welcomed into the kingdom. You feel ashamed. Jesus has welcomed him where you have turned your back. You realise even though Zacchaeus was just trying to make his way in an oppressive Roman regime as best he could, he has continued to be isolated and outcast by his community as a convenient scapegoat. Then you hear Jesus say, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” It is like Jesus is reading your thoughts and is showing by his actions the kingdom that God is creating; full of misfits like Zacchaeus who is also “a son on Abraham”. Maybe, you realise, Jesus would even welcome you, who has sat in judgement of others and not had eyes to see the generosity and abundance of the God who welcomes all…including you…to the party. Salvation is what you are seeing here as this man who was an outcast is received back into community by Jesus. You sense a release in yourself as you realise you no longer need to be the judge- not even of yourself.[1]

I don’t think there has to be a “correct” interpretation of scripture. I think there are things revealed about God in Christ and the life of faith in both ways of reading the story.

When we hold both together, I think we hear a few important truths.

We have to allow ourselves to be seen. The invitation to joy and freedom is always being offered by the God who honours our vulnerable hope of being seen and comes towards us, regardless of how far we have wandered from goodness and truth, life and love. The invitation of Jesus to come and eat and drink with you is always being offered in every ‘today’. And part of the generosity of that offer is to forgive us for every time we have thought the party was just for us…or couldn’t possibly include those other kinds of people not like us. One of the gifts of grace received is that we are given back to one another. When we believe we are on our own, or have to somehow make it on our own, life can become a fearful desolate place. With Jesus, the long party that is your life makes room for a remarkably diverse guest list. With Jesus, the banquet table is overflowing with abundance and with laughter. With Jesus, eternity…and salvation…begins today.


[1] Byrne, Brendan The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, Liturgical Press Minnesota: 2015, p 166-167