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Resources for 31st Ordinary Sunday


Let us pray (in silence) [that God’s love strengthen us to do God’s will]


Almighty and merciful God, [or Living God or Eternal God]
it is your gift alone
by which your faithful people
offer you true and laudable service,
grant, we beseech you,
that we may run, without stumbling, towards your promises;
through Jesus Christ
who is alive with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The above ancient prayer is used by Roman Catholics and Episcopalians/Anglicans and others – and on the same day! It has a long, shared history which you can find here with commentary and reflection: Ordinary 31. The above is my rendering in my Book of Prayers in Common.

This Sunday’s Gospel story about Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is often mistranslated:

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “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.”

The original is:

σταθεὶς δὲ Ζακχαῖος εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν κύριον Ἰδού, τὰ ἡμίση τῶν ὑπαρχόντων μου κύριε δίδωμι τοῖς πτωχοῖς καὶ εἴ τινός τι ἐσυκοφάντησα ἀποδίδωμι τετραπλοῦν

δίδωμι (give) and ἀποδίδωμι (restore) are not future at all; they are both present active indicative. These are things Zacchaeus is already doing.

In fact, the KJV gets it correct:

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

Preachers regularly retell this story and do exactly what is being argued against – they presume that this rich tax collector is living an unjust life. One larger context of this story is the rich ruler of Luke 18:18-25. Note, also, the sequence of the story. Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house before Zacchaeus’ proclamation that he lives a just life.

Some communities celebrate All Saints’ today.

Some other celebrations this coming week:

Monday 31 October: Reformation Day
Tuesday 1 November: All Saints
Wednesday 2 November: All Souls
Thursday 3 November: Martin de Porres
Friday 4 November: Charles Borromeo; Richard Hooker

You can add your ideas and resources below.

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image source: Zacchaeus by Stevns, Niels Larsen, 1864-1942

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13 thoughts on “Resources for 31st Ordinary Sunday”

  1. Luke describe Zacchaeus as “a chief tax collector” and “rich.” This is a dead giveaway for someone who is a quisling and an exploiter. I don’t think he was a “Robin Hood” figure (stealing from the rich and giving to the poor). All who saw Jesus go with him “grumbled.” Was hated because he redistributed wealth? Not likely. His present tense action “give” and “restore” seem to me to be a grateful impulse of the moment, the result of being embraced by a gracious Jesus.

    1. Thanks, Ken.

      Luke’s tense, as I show, indicates Zachaeus describes repeated, customary practice, rather than a single spontaneous act of generosity. There is no admission that he has committed extortion – but “if I discover I have…” then he follows Exod 22:1. The Mishnah reduces this to twofold.

      No one (except you) has suggested Zacchaeus functions here as a Robin Hood figure. But your assumption that he is unjust is exactly that of the crowd. That prejudice, in fact, is incorrect – as Luke so often reveals. Zacchaeus, even though by his trade he is despised by many fellow Jews, is included among the people of the blessing (see also Luke 3:8).


  2. Your fresh takes on familiar Gospel stories are always very stimulating, Bosco. We so often forget to pay attention to the text itself.

    I have to ask, though: how it can be that Jesus’s purpose is to confound supposedly unfair assumptions about Zacchaeus’s sinfulness when he says that *today* salvation has come to this house, and that his mission is to seek and save what was *lost*? The implication would seem to be that previously Zacchaeus was in fact lost and in need of salvation. Or are you suggesting that he was “lost,” not intrinsically, but only to the community that unfairly rejected him? Is it adequate to speak of “salvation” as deliverance from unfair opinion, and not from our objective state? Or is it the community that is in fact “lost”?

    On your point about the verb tenses, Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea cites the Byzantine exegete Theophylact of Ohrid (born c.1050/1060, died after 1125):

    “If we examine more closely, we shall see that nothing was left of his own property. For having given half of his goods to the poor, out of the remainder he restored fourfold to those whom he had injured. He not only promised this, but he did it. For he says not, ‘I will give the half, and I will restore fourfold,’ but, _I give_, and _I restore_. To such Christ announces salvation.”

    (Oxford trans. of 1841, repr. Baronius Press, 2009, pp. 626-7)

    The Greek-speaking Theophylact thus judges the present tenses to refer to an act that Zacchaeus has just now performed, or is in the process of performing. (I myself have always read the KJV present tense as implying “I hereby give… I hereby restore…”) Theophylact also notes, as you do (thanks!), that the fourfold restitution is exactly what the Law requires.

    Turning from the Catena to the text of Theophylact himself (PG 123, col. 1022B), I see not only that Thomas has accurately reproduced Theophylact’s comment, but that Theophylact further links the present tense “I give, I restore” with Prov. 3:28, “Say not unto thy neighbour, ‘Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give’, when thou hast it by thee.”

    Other early commentators suggest that Zacchaeus’s desire to see Jesus in the first place was in fact the beginning of a new, just life. Hearing about Jesus’s approach brings about a conversion. On that reading, his relinquishment of his riches becomes rather like the tears and ointment of the sinful woman who washed Jesus’s feet: the action of love is evidence of saving repentance and faith. Jesus announces the accomplished fact of salvation to those who still see the penitent as unforgiven.

    1. Thanks, Jesse (as always).

      I guess, firstly, as a strong advocate of NRSV, in this case I am irritated by the translation. NRSV’s here is an interpretation rather than a translation. I understand the intermingling of those two, but other translations have not gone down this pathway.

      I think Luke connects the disposition of our hearts with our attitude to possessions, but I don’t think that giving up possessions is identical to salvation in Luke. So Luke is contrasting the rich ruler, who appears pious but is closed to Jesus’ kingdom call, with Zacchaeus, who appears corrupt but is open to Jesus’ invitation. Those who cling to their wealth are closed to Jesus’ call. Those who share generously are open to to Jesus’ invitation.

      Amongst others listed there, Luke Timothy Johnson takes this approach in Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke.


      1. I am continually irritated by the NRSV, so it’s only fair that you should be too, at least once in a while. 🙂

        We seem to be in entire agreement. Salvation here is a change of heart, which bears fruit in a manner appropriate to this person, but which is not to be taken as paradigmatic for all. And your point about openness to the invitation is so important! It is so hard for the respected and respectable to change. We’re like the “good” son in the story of the Prodigal: so imprisoned by good behaviour in expectation of reward that we can’t open our eyes to see that the real rewards are ours to enjoy already. Meanwhile, the publicans and prostitutes go into the kingdom before us.

        Thanks for the L. T. Johnson link. I’ll have to check out this series.

        1. Thanks, Jesse. Which translation do you find the least irritating (I guess that’s how I might describe the NRSV)? Blessings.

          1. As a liturgy professor, I am constitutionally incapable of enjoying anything at all without irritation.

            I was going to joke and say that I generally find Jerome’s translation inoffensive. But to be candid, and to resume my customary long-windedness, I actually use the KJV in my daily offices, and prefer it in public liturgy when I can get it. Not because I’m a KJV-onlyist (though I find again and again that its supposed textual weaknesses and mistranslations are often defensible at least as minority scholarly positions) or for the aesthetic qualities that unbelievers often fasten on it (though from habitual use I do find it very beautiful), but because it seems to me to have a status for English-speaking Christians that the Vulgate has (or had) for Roman Catholics, the Septuagint OT and Textus Receptus NT for Byzantines, and the other ancient or medieval versions for their respective traditions. It is “the Bible in English,” where translations are “renderings in English of scholarly reconstructions of the Biblical text.” I use and greatly value the second type. (My shelves groan under them.) But with the first type, I am conscious of stepping into an ocean of reception history, literary associations, and accumulated devotion that no modern version is ever likely to amass. The effect is that I do not notice archaisms that might distract in other contexts (like the inclusive use of “men”), and those passages where I might have been taught a “better” translation are nevertheless acceptable to my ear because they have borne fruit in the meditation of past generations.

            The NRSV I tend to find neither hot nor cold. It falsely gives the impression of the ambiguous formal equivalence of, say, the NASB, while lacking the courage to take a definite interpretation with dynamic equivalence, as in the NJB or Ronald Knox’s remarkable translation of the Clementine Vulgate. And to anyone at all familiar with other versions, still more the original languages, the NRSV’s “inclusive” language is actually extremely distracting, because it so often involves such tortured circumlocutions.

            All of that could be said of the KJV too, of course! (Reversing the inclusive part.) And I realize that 12 years of university had something to do with my not finding it opaque.

            But you asked…

          2. Thanks, Jesse. I think your penultimate paragraph is important. Increasingly I’m finding that not only are “older” translation versions less accessible to people, but the words and concepts of the biblical worldview also make less and less connection with contemporary (younger) people. They might read the words of the NRSV (or any other attempt at contemporary translation) but there is little to no comprehension of what is being read.

            Another issue is the evolution of English. We are not yet through how to deal with making language gender inclusive. Interestingly, for some languages and cultures this is not even something they have begun bothering about. But there are other issues with English. I was at a formal presentation to a highly-educated group recently, and the presenter clearly wanted to use ‘you’ in its plural rather than singular understanding. His solution: throughout his formal presentation he used the construction ‘you guys’. Doing so also meant that ‘guys’ was clearly understood as gender inclusive.


          3. Too true. The translation used is a secondary matter when people are just trying to get their heads round the Bible’s intrinsic idioms.

            In “The Good Book,” Peter Gomes recounted a conversation with a parishioner who said that, for her, listening to Bible readings in church was like eavesdropping on a conversation in French: you try to remember the basic vocabulary and grammar you learned in elementary school, you guess to fill in the gaps of unfamiliar words, constructions, and colloquial omissions, and eventually you lose the thread of meaning and give up.

          4. I just came across a passage in William Temple’s “A Challenge to the Church” (1945) that seems apposite to this old thread, though it refers to liturgy rather than the Bible:

            “There is often complaint that the Prayer Book services are too difficult in their language. It is not so much the language that is difficult as the ideas which it expresses, the Christian conceptions which are not understood even by many Christians and which are altogether foreign to those outside.”

            A good friend of mine, a staggeringly learned theologian, suggested that what contemporary readers of the Bible lack an Aristotelian “hypothesis” of the text. Not in the scientific sense of a “guess,” but rather a prior understanding of the underlying purpose of the work, which guides the interpretation of difficult passages. A proper hypothesis is as necessary for scripture as it is for Homer.

            (For example, to take Jesus’s interaction with the Syro-Phoenician woman as evidence that he had to overcome racist attitudes would evince a non-Christian hypothesis of the text. A Christian hypothesis would start from the creeds and read all Jesus’s utterances as consistent with both his divinity and his sinless humanity.)

          5. Thanks, Jesse, as usual there is much to ponder in what you are presenting here. Advent blessings.

  3. Forgive one further thought. You helpfully remind us, Bosco, that the story of Zacchaeus follows closely after the saying about how it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25).

    Bede, in his commentary on the Zacchaeus story, declares: “Behold, the camel, dropping the luggage of his hump, passes through the eye of the needle! The rich man leaves behind the burden of his riches, the tax collector spurns the property got by his deceits, and enters the strait gate and the narrow road that leads to life.” (In Lucae evangelio expositio, V.19, line 1500; my translation.)

    Which of course reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s epigram:

    All things (e.g. a camel’s journey through
    A needle’s eye) are possible, it’s true.
    But picture how the camel feels, squeezed out
    In one long bloody thread from tail to snout.

    (Poems, ed. Walter Hooper, San Diego: Harcourt, 1964, p. 134)

    It further seems to me that “seeing” has a lot to do with the wider redactional setting of the story. Jesus tells the Twelve about what will happen in Jerusalem, but it is “hidden” from them (18:34); then the blind man more accurately “sees” Jesus (as Son of David) and has his vision restored through his faith (18:38,42); then Zacchaeus desires to “see” Jesus and has to climb a tree to “see” (19:3-4), but in fact it is Jesus who “looks” and “sees” him (19:5).

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