Zacchaeus, Patron Saint for Stewards
By the Rev. Glenn Schoonover
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.
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
For Iím going to your house today,
For Iím going to your house
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 canít see over crowds. But do you remember the next stanza
of that charming story in song? Probably not, because to my knowledge
there isnít 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. Youíll find it in Lukeís
Gospel; chapter 19; verses 1-10.
What we find is not a summary of what took place at that dinner in
Zacchaeusís 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 Jesusís
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 Godís own invitation to deeper
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. Jesusís 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 Zacchaeusís 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 Zacchaeusís 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 Zacchaeusís
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.
Letís tell the whole story about Zacchaeus. Letís tell the whole story
about stewardship. And while weíre at it, it might even be good to add a
second verse to that song. Itís 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. ...
The Rev. Glenn Schoonover is a consultant for
a Christian stewardship services company, and a former stewardship
specialist with the ELCA Nebraska Synod.