A new start for Zacchaeus
by Gill Hartley (revised, originally published in 2000)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To reflect upon the new opportunities and challenges that a new school year brings.
Preparation and materials
- You will need to be familiar with the Bible story of Zacchaeus, which is found in Luke 19.1-10. Alternatively, use a child-friendly version of the story or prearrange for a child to read the Bible passage.
- Ask the children if they can think of anything that is new today or this week. Examples could be some new people (new children and possibly new members of staff), some people wearing new clothes, a new school year and a new term. If this is not the first assembly of the school year, look for other new things such as a new day, a new week and so on.
- Point out that at the start of a new school year, many things are new. Children have often grown in the holidays, so they have needed to get new school uniforms. Teachers will be giving out new exercise books. New children will have arrived in the Reception class and other new children may have arrived in other years. It is a time of new beginnings.
- Explain that you are going to tell the children a story about a man who had a new start in his life. Read or retell the story of Zacchaeus, someone who changed for the better after meeting Jesus.
The Story of Zacchaeus
One day, Jesus was busy teaching and healing when he came to a place called Jericho. A huge crowd came out to see Jesus and in the crowd was a man named Zacchaeus. He wasn’t very popular in Jericho because he was a tax collector, so his job was to take people’s money and give it to the Romans. He also stole money from people by charging them far more than the Romans asked for. Zacchaeus kept all this money for himself.
Zacchaeus had joined the crowd because he desperately wanted to see Jesus. He had heard a lot about him and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. However, Zacchaeus had a problem: he was too short to see over the heads of the people in the crowd. It looked like he was going to miss out on seeing Jesus, but then he saw the answer: a tree, right by the spot where Jesus would pass. Quick as a flash, Zacchaeus climbed the tree – now he could see clearly!
Zacchaeus watched as Jesus got closer. Then, without warning, Jesus stopped right under the tree where Zacchaeus was sitting. Looking up, Jesus said, ‘Come down, Zacchaeus. I need to stay in your house today.’
Zacchaeus was so pleased that he scrambled down the tree and happily took Jesus back to his house. However, many people in the crowd were not so pleased. They started shouting that Jesus shouldn’t be seen with a person like Zacchaeus, a tax collector.
After he had spent some time with Jesus, Zacchaeus came out of his house and looked round at the crowd. ‘I have an announcement to make,’ he said. ‘I will give half of everything I own to the poor. And everyone that I have ever cheated and stolen from can have their money back – but four times as much!’
Zacchaeus had a new friend, Jesus - and a new way of life.
- Explain that just like Zacchaeus got a new chance when he met Jesus, so everyone in school can have a second chance when they get things wrong. Point out that each day is a new chance - a chance to be different and a chance to make new friends. If we’ve done things we’re sorry about, we can begin afresh each new day. This is even more true at the start of a new school year.
Time for reflection
Ask the children to think about the following questions, pausing for reflection after each one.
- Are you looking forward to the new school year?
- Are you frightened of anything?
- Are there things you are nervous about?
- Are there things you would like to do better than last year?
- What new chance would you like this year?
- How would you like to be different?
Help us when we are frightened because we have to go somewhere new.
Help us always to be willing to try something new.
Help us not to be afraid of making a mistake.
Help us to remember other people’s feelings, especially if they are new to our school.
Help us always to do our best.