Family Liturgies

Family Liturgy: The Story of Zacchaeus

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–by Joanna Harader

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10

Memory Verse: Luke 19:10–“The Son of Man came to look for the lost and save them.”

Prayer

Dear God,
Thank you for loving us– whether we are short or tall, old or young, rich or poor.
Help us to reach out to other people who need to know that you love them. Amen.

Thoughts

I’ve always been short for my age. I’ve known the frustration of being in a crowd and only seeing blank backs. I’ve also known the thrill of being able to weave between people to get to the front of a crowd (which got me in position to shake Jimmy Carter’s hand once). And I’ve known the tummy-dropping feeling of being lifted onto someone’s shoulders for a better view.

So I grew up loving this wee little man, Zacchaeus. I could relate to his height-disadvantage and his creative problem-solving techniques. When I sung or heard about Jesus telling Zacchaeus to come down from the tree so Jesus could go to his house, it felt like a personal word from Jesus to me. If I had been in that First Century crowd, Jesus would have wanted to come to my house, because I’m short like Zacchaeus!

Later, when I was in seminary, someone pointed out to me that in the original Greek, and in many English translations, the pronouns in verse three of this story are pretty unclear: “He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.” Based on the grammar of the sentence, it actually could have been Jesus who was short.

My heart thrilled at the thought! Maybe Mary had to hem up Jesus’ robes so they didn’t drag on the ground. Maybe Jesus had to ask a tall friend to reach a fig that was too high up on the tree. Maybe he needed a boost to get on his donkey.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was short or tall or in between. Jesus was not exactly like any one of us, but he was human like all of us. Jesus, the very Son of God, had a body that got hot and cold and hungry and tired; he had feelings that shifted from joy to anger to sadness.

Jesus was human, and so he understands humans. He sees Zacchaeus in the tree and understands that Zacchaeus is lost–that Zacchaeus is sad and lonely and ready to change his life. Jesus’ simple acknowledgment of Zacchaeus as worthy of his company is all it takes for Zacchaeus to renounce his cheating ways and repay those from whom he had taken money.

I think we all can be Zacchaeus and Jesus in this story–even those who aren’t short. We all need to realize that we are known and loved and accepted by God through the humanity of Jesus. And we all need to see the people around us through Jesus’ eyes of compassion.

Prayer Practice

Draw a picture together of a scene from the story of Zacchaeus. Then imagine what it would have been like to be each of the characters in your picture: Jesus, Zachhaeus, a disciple, a person in the crowd. Consider:

  • How would you feel?
  • What would you think of what is happening?
  • What would you think about the other characters?
  • What would you be learning about God?

Pray together that you will know God’s love for you and that you will be able to see other people as God sees them.

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