The Common Good

A Hymn for Economic Justice: 'Zacchaeus was a Tax Man'

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.

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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 into 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, Westminister -- John Knox Press, 2001, p. 222).

Luke Timothy Johnson observes, "The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9) is meant to contrast with that of the ruler in Luke 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 (Luke 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" 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.

Zacchaeus was a Tax Man
AURELIA 7.6.7.6 D ("The Church's One Foundation")

Zacchaeus was a tax man who one day climbed a tree,
For he was short in stature and said he could not see.
And yet he had a problem that mattered even more:
He didn't see the suffering his greed had caused the poor

O Lord, you saw Zacchaeus -- so wealthy, yet alone.
You said, "Come down -- and hurry! I'm coming to your home."
For you broke bread with sinners and saw within each one
A person loved and treasured -- God's daughter or God's son.

It wasn't just the treetop that helped Zacchaeus see;
Your love and welcome showed him how different life could be.
He said that he'd start over and work to make things fair;
He'd speak the truth, bring justice, and find new ways to share.

O Christ, you bid us welcome and help us all to see!
May we respond by building a just society.
Then children won't be hungry and all will share your bread.
Then those who now must struggle will live in joy instead.

Luke 19:1-10 (Revised Common Lectionary's Gospel for October 31, 2010/Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 26 (31)/Reformation Sunday)
Tune: AURELIA 7.6.7.6 D ("The Church's One Foundation"), Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1864.
Alternate tune: ANGEL'S STORY 7.6.7.6.D ("O Jesus, I Have Promised"), Arthur Henry Mann, 1888.
Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Email: bcgillette@comcast.net.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is the author of Songs of Grace: New Hymns for God and Neighbor (Upper Room Books 2009)and Gifts of Love: New Hymns for Today's Worship (Geneva Press, 2000) and serves with her husband Bruce as the co-pastors of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. A complete list of the 160+ hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette can be found www.carolynshymns.com. Sojourners' past postings of Carolyn Winfrey Gillette's hymns include hymns on Matthew 25/disaster relief, immigration, the Gulf oil spill and war in Iraq. A complete list of the 160+ hymns by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, many with peace and justice themes, can be found www.carolynshymns.com.

Hymn Use Permission: Churches that support Sojourners have permission to use this hymn. The hymn was originally written to support Bread for the World's Offering of Letters April 15th Tax Day Initiative.

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