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Soft centres

To think about our attitudes to others and how we can sometimes be ‘hard of heart’.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To think about our attitudes to others and how we can sometimes be ‘hard of heart’.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need an assortment of items that can make things soft, such as fabric conditioner, hand or face cream, bath salts.
  • A hard stone.
  • A diamond ring (real or fake!).
  • A piece of Blu-Tack.
  • Prepare the story as told below or from a child-friendly version of the Bible.


  1. Ask the children to look at the softening materials on display. What do they have in common? They are all used to make something soft. Discuss the effect each softener has and ask for a show of hands of those who use them at home. Can they think of any other items that make things soft?

  2. Show the children the stone and ask which of the above items would work on the stone to make it soft. Obviously none – but be prepared to discuss erosion over time if any children pick up on it!
  3. Show the diamond ring. A diamond is the hardest stone there is. Explain about diamonds being used as drill bits on North Sea oil drilling rigs. We usually think of diamonds as 'valuable' before we think of them as 'hard'.
  4. Talk about how we can have a hard heart like the stone, or a soft heart like Blu-Tack – you could give examples of when we refuse to listen to other people or won’t let them play with us.
  5. Introduce the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19.2–10, or tell the version of the story below, saying that it’s about someone Jesus met who started off with a stone-hard heart.

    by Janice Ross

    He had always been a loner. He had never had as much as one friend. Not surprising, really. What would you expect? He had lived most of his life as a cheat. It was easy. Just demand more money. That was the beauty of his job as a tax collector. People were a bit afraid of tax collectors. They worked for the government. They had quite a bit of power and influence. No, you would not want to get on the wrong side of a tax collector, especially one like Zacchaeus.

    He was a small man, was Zacchaeus. Perhaps he was bullied or laughed at. Sometimes people get picked on by others – the tall ones, perhaps, or the short ones, or ones with straight hair, or ones with curly hair, or ones with the wrong clothes. People are certainly not born cheats.

    Or perhaps Zacchaeus just thought that money could bring him happiness, or friends. Or maybe he was just a rogue!

    One day Zacchaeus was out and about in the streets of Jericho. He heard people talking about Jesus. All excited, they were, that Jesus was going to be passing through their town that day.

    Zacchaeus had heard quite a lot about this Jesus and was rather curious about him. He followed the crowd, at a distance, of course, until he realized that he was not going to see a thing from the back of this rabble. So Zacchaeus did something a bit unusual for a man in his position. He hoisted up his cloak and sprinted to the front of the queue. Then he astonished even himself by climbing up into a sycamore tree to get a good view.

    He could see the man coming into the city, together with his followers. There was nothing different about Jesus’ appearance. He looked very ordinary, in fact. Not the powerful leader Zacchaeus was expecting.

    Jesus was right under the tree now. ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’

    Come down! Zacchaeus nearly fell out of the tree with astonishment! How does he know my name? Come to my house for tea?

    Zacchaeus was not the only one who was surprised. All the people – yes, every last one of them – began to mutter. ‘He has come to be the guest of a bad man!’ Well, who could blame them? As I said earlier, everyone in the town knew about Zacchaeus' shady money dealings.

    Zacchaeus didn’t notice the unkind chatter around him, but welcomed Jesus gladly into his home. We don’t know what the two men said to each other but something certainly happened in Zac's heart. Listen to what he said to Jesus.

    ‘Here and now I will give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’

    Jesus said to Zacchaeus, ‘You see, Zacchaeus, you are the very reason I seek out people who are lost.’

    How many friends do you think Zacchaeus has now, I wonder?
  6. Discuss the story with the children, bringing out the following points. Zacchaeus was a man with a hard heart. We don't know why, but Jesus did. Jesus also believed that Zacchaeus had some good in him, if only he could be persuaded to change his ways. Zacchaeus mattered to Jesus, and Jesus' love (or friendship and concern) was able to penetrate his hard heart.

Time for reflection


In a moment of quiet, ask the children to think about the story of Zacchaeus, a man who changed his ways and softened his heart.

Are there ways that they could change how they treat others?



Dear God,

Thank you that you know us and that you care for us.

Help us to be kind and generous to other people,

like Zacchaeus after he met Jesus.



‘Thank you, Lord’ (Come and Praise, 32)

Publication date: January 2007   (Vol.9 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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