Today at our Lenten Service I’m bringing a message on Zacchaeus’ penitence as a model for our own need to repent. So as I was taking a closer look at Luke 19.1-10, I notice that the text is actually ambiguous about who is actually short: Zacchaeus or Jesus?
Of course, the VBS ditty had indoctrinated me to believe that Zacchaeus was a “wee little man” who climbed the sycamore fig tree so he could see Jesus over the crowd. But this same need, to climb the tree, would still be true had Zachaeus been at the back of the crowd and he could not see Jesus because Jesus was the short one.
“And he was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.” (Luke 19:3 NASB)
“καὶ ἐζήτει ἰδεῖν τὸν Ἰησοῦν τίς ἐστιν καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἀπὸ τοῦ ὄχλου, ὅτι τῇ ἡλικίᾳ μικρὸς ἦν” (Luke 19:3 GNT)
While there is no great theological points to be made here, it does demonstrate that a careful reading of the original text can surface ambiguities that English readers will probably miss.