This is truly a story of repentance, a word whose roots mean “to turn around.” Zaccheaus was a selfish, greedy, conniving man, who was “in bed” – as the phrase goes – with the occupying forces. I can’t imagine the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’s command for him to come down from the sycamore tree and host him in his own home. The children’s song is often how this story is taught, but it is even more significant for children: no matter what God will always love you and forgive you. This isn’t a lesson children always need today, it is a story for their tomorrows. They need to know that as they grow they will make choices, and some will turn out to be terrible mistakes, but that doesn’t make God love them less. And when you teach this story with love in your voice, they will also remember that the church is a place where love and forgiveness welcome them with open arms.
Useful Resources for Understanding the Story
- The Text this Week’s list of general Luke resources, articles pertaining to poverty and possessions may be particularly noteworthy for this text. On Zacchaeus.
- Luther Seminary’s Enter the Bible article on Luke. On Zacchaeus.
- Wikipedia on Zacchaeus.
Make and Do
- Make a tree, such as this one with a trunk made with a handprint, and decorate with fall leaves or handprint leaves; or this one with toilet paper rolls and coffee filters; or this one with a paper bag and tissue paper leaves.
- Make a climbing Zacchaeus.
- Make an edible tree with marshmallows, green sprinkles, and pretzels.
- Zacchaeus climbed a tree because he was short; it also hid him from a crowd that didn’t like him, but Jesus saw him anyway. Make binoculars with two toilet paper tubes.
- Make (and eat) leaf-shaped cookies.
- Plant a tree.
- Make leaf and/or bark rubbings from trees around church.
- Teach the stand-by “Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man” – you might be surprised that some of the kids don’t know it!
- Jesus knew Zacchaeus’s name. Have the students write out their name with bubble letters and decorate it. Or bring in a name book and help them look up the meaning of their name, then decorate a name plaque.
- Because Zacchaeus was a tax collector, make a review game using edible gold coins. Perhaps look up instructions on playing dreidel.
- Pull out a long piece of paper or a paper table cloth. Have the students draw and/or write what they would do if Jesus came to their house for dinner.
- Try the “Zacchaeus, Come Down” game with balloons from this blog. The “show what you know” suggestion at the bottom is a winner, too!
- This is a fun story to act out – all you really need is Jesus and Zacchaeus, but you can have other kids be disciples, the crowd. Get everyone involved. Or teach the sign language for house, tree, Jesus, etc. Just make sure you use those signs a lot!
- Play “Simon Says” (or Jesus says…), be sure to include lots of “turn around”s, since Zacchaeus turned around.
- Teach children how to apologize, and then write pretend apologies for fairy tale characters, like Goldilocks:
- I’m sorry for…
- In the future, I will…
- Will you forgive me…
- Have children write something they are sorry for on Flash Paper and light on fire. The flash paper goes up in an instant (remind kids that the paper is special, and not to do it at home!).