Biblical Reference: Luke 19:1-10
Tune: Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1864 ("The Church's One Foundation")
Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
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Many people grew up enjoying the song "Zacchaeus was a wee little man," celebrating this beloved story of Jesus and a tax collector. This new hymn lifts up other aspects of Luke 19:1-10 beyond Zacchaeus' height; it celebrates Jesus' love for everyone and the call for his followers to work for justice for all.
N.T. Wright comments: "Luke's is the only gospel that tells us of him [Zacchaeus] and his sudden moment of glory, and the hardened old tax-collector fits in to three of Luke's regular themes: the problem of riches and what to do about it, the identification of Jesus with 'sinners,' and the faith which recognizes Jesus as Lord and discovers new life as a result ( Luke for Everyone, Westminster - John Knox Press, 2001, p. 222).
Luke Timothy Johnson observes, "the story of Zacchaeus (19:1-9) is meant to contrast with that of the ruler in 18:18-23. Both men were powerful, both wealthy. The first kept all the commandments, and could be considered as righteous. But he could not do the "one thing remaining," which was to hand over his life utterly to the prophet, and to signal that commitment by selling his possessions and giving them to the poor. Zacchaeus, in contrast, was regarded as a "sinner" by those accompanying Jesus because of his occupation as chief tax-agent. But he is eager to receive the prophet "with joy" and he declares his willingness to share — indeed if this reading of the story is correct, his regular practice of sharing — his possessions with the poor, not as a single gesture but as a steady commitment" ( The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 287).
Joel Green finds, "Unlike the rich ruler, Zacchaeus does not employ his wealth so as to procure honor and friends; rather, he is a social outcast who puts his possessions in the service of the needy and of justice. Such a person would indeed be eager to welcome Jesus, anointed by the Spirit to bring "good news to the poor (4:18-19), with joy!" ( The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1997, p. 672).
See also "Reflections on Jesus' Encounter with Zacchaeus: When the tax system meets Jesus, good things happen for poor people" (PDF file) by Larry Hollar (a Bread for the World's 2010 Offering of Letters resource).
This hymn was originally written to support Bread for the World's 2010 Offering of Letters that urges Congress to adopt changes to U.S. tax policy that will benefit low-income families.
See Stewardship Hymns for a list of other helpful hymns with stewardship themes.