Zacchaeus, Patron Saint for Stewards

By The Rev. Glenn Schoonover, March 31, 2011

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in the Sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree.
And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down,
For I’m going to your house today,
For I’m going to your house today.”

Even children are likely to know the song. Where it is no longer taught, maybe it should be. It brings to mind a very familiar biblical character; one who might charm a whole new appreciation of biblical stewardship. Perhaps you learned the song as I did, as a child, interested in the perseverance of this little fellow, Zacchaeus, and empathizing with how little folk can’t see over crowds. But do you remember the next stanza of that charming story in song? Probably not, because to my knowledge there isn’t a second verse. I think there should be: it would be a theme song for stewards — about their patron saint.

As it is, the song stops before the real importance of the Zacchaeus story even gets told. When related at all, the story in its popular version neglects what the divine encounter with Zacchaeus was all about. But the biblical story tells much more. It tells the part that makes Zacchaeus a patron saint” for stewards. Perhaps now would be a good time for you to consult the original version again. You’ll find it in Luke’s Gospel; chapter 19; verses 1-10.

What we find is not a summary of what took place at that dinner in Zacchaeus’s home; it is only the result. What an occasion it must have been. Already curious and pursuing his spiritual inclination to learn more about the Lord, Zacchaeus had expended considerable energy in an effort to learn more of what his soul sought about Jesus. Learning of Jesus’s itinerary that day in Jericho, he had positioned himself along the route in hopes of learning more for life. At this point I recall the “pictures” painted by childhood Sunday School leaflets. It was often a not-so-attractive picture of Zacchaeus.

The need to climb the tree is understandable. He was short but he was resourceful. Maybe he climbed the tree to be safe from his neighbors. While he needed to get above the crowd to see beyond them, the knowledge of his eventual contrition about ill-gotten gain gave rise, perhaps, to the portrayal of him — as round as he was short. No doubt that was meant to impress us with the physical consequences of avarice. All of us were surprised, then, when Jesus stopped right there beneath that tree and spoke to Zacchaeus by name inviting Himself to dinner, an important time for fellowship, and sharing in God’s own invitation to deeper relationship.

The story then moves directly to the climax of the event. We are not told about the menu, the guest list, nor even the topics of conversation. But what a climax it was and what a conversation must have brought it about. Whatever happened that night during that home visit, Zacchaeus made a profound commitment: half of his possessions, and wherever dishonestly achieved, a reimbursement four times over. Jesus’s benediction is as dynamic as any we would want spoken in our home: “Today salvation has come to this house.”

Now just a few items are well worth our reflection as stewards. Note that this is tangible evidence, once more, of the integration of money and possessions with the spirituality of commitment. Zacchaeus did not promise to read scripture more faithfully nor to attend the synagogue more regularly. On this occasion he was not pledging his time or his talent to the programmatic mission of the faith community. Worthy as those are — and necessary for the life of the people of God — this visit was about something else. At dinner, Jesus might have said something about what nature Zacchaeus’s commitment might take. They could have talked about his willingness to usher at the synagogue service or to teach in the Sabbath School. But fitting as those topics are, they were left for another conversation. This commitment was to re-order his financial priorities and his stewardship of material things.

How exciting it would be to integrate the whole story of Zacchaeus into the song we may have learned as children — or the “song” we are still teaching about the lifestyle of stewardship. The application of spiritual commitment to our financial priorities is not an afterthought for growing faithful. It is integral to the life of any Christian as they seek to grow in their love of God and passion for the people we are called to serve.

I think that visit in the home of Zacchaeus might be seen as a home visit for the purpose of inviting Zacchaeus to a deeper commitment of faith. Do you suppose that someone who knew of Zacchaeus’s resources as well as his spiritual need pointed him out to the Lord? Is it possible that Jesus even focused the conversation on that aspect of Zacchaeus’s life which most reflected his personal and particular needs and potential to do good things?

I suspect that the answer to these questions may be “yes.” As one who is thrilled to visit with people, rich and poor, of varying degrees of honesty and generosity, I enjoy seeing Zacchaeus as a “patron saint” for all of us stewards. Think of it: he had the joy to welcome into his home for a “stewardship visit”- the Steward of our Salvation. He made a pledge because he was profoundly moved by the conversation with our Lord. Zacchaeus made a commitment to change some very important things.

Let’s tell the whole story about Zacchaeus. Let’s tell the whole story about stewardship.And while we’re at it, it might even be good to add a second verse to that song. It’s not a bad song — for children of the faith of all ages. It would go something like this:

Zacchaeus became a very gen’rous man, a very gen’rous man was he. …

Scan by Martin LaBar from 19th century bible story book, Half Hours With the Bible, New Testament, New York: Clifton Pub. Co.  Public domain. Thanks Martin!

About the Author

The Rev. Glenn Schoonover is a consultant for Kairos, a Christian stewardship services company, and a former stewardship specialist with the ELCA Nebraska Synod.See The Rev. Glenn Schoonover's website.

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1 Comment

  1. Scott Rowland

    i enjoyed the story, i am not a pastor but i have the opportunity to speak at my church in Gloucester va-White Marsh Baptist come May 15 for my second and proabaly my last time due to we are looking for a interium pastor but i am speaking of Zaccheaus and been serching bits and pieces to come up with my own sermon, God bless-Scott Rowland.

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