On Sunday the preacher, who is church planting in a Middle Eastern city, gave me a new insight into this verse.

He has been reading Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey, and one of the insights from it that he shared with us was to do with hospitality.

In the West we honour people by inviting them to our homes to eat with us. The guest has higher honour than the host. In the Middle East, however, it’s the host who is honoured – you honour someone by going to his home and eating with him. So when Jesus told Zacchaeus “I’m coming to your house for tea” (as the children’s song puts it), he wasn’t being oddly presumptuous and seeking to invade Zacchaeus’ space, he was showing him great honour, indicating that although no one else would have dreamed of associating with him, Jesus held him in high esteem.

The same is true of this verse. We tend to read it as Jesus asking to be allowed into our lives, as though we are the ones in the position of power, and we are choosing whether or not to honour him. In fact, he is the one with all the power, and he is, incredibly, amazingly (especially given the fact that in the preceding verses he has been telling the audience how wretched and shameful they are) choosing to bestow on us the great honour of entering our home to eat with us.

What a shift in perspective!

[Updated to correct some typos – sorry for any confusion!]