Ask any toddler who her friends are and she’ll list every person she ever met. Young children easily label others as friends, but as children grow, they become more discerning in their friendships. Only those they spend the most time with and have the most in common with earn the title of “friend.” Jesus actively sought out those who were least likely to be his friends. He spent time with people whose communities pushed them to or beyond their boundaries. In doing so, he encouraged his followers to seek out and cultivate unexpected friendships. In this lesson, children will explore the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. They will consider the gifts that result from unlikely friendships and the ways these relationships help bring about the kin-dom of God.
You will need
- A Bible
- A computer with Internet access (optional)
- A data projector or television that can be connected to the computer (optional)
- Videos: “Strangers At My Door” and “The World’s Most Unlikely Animal Relationships.”
Greet the children as they arrive.
Have the children sit in a circle or around a table so they can see one another.
- Who are your closest friends?
- What do you enjoy about these friendships?
- How did you become friends?
Note that many of our friendships are the result of shared interests or experiences. We’re most likely to become friends with people who we see often or who we have a lot in common with us.
Exploring the passage
Say a prayer.
Provide context for the Bible passage you will be reading:
- The reading comes from the Gospel of Luke and tells a story about Jesus’ ministry.
- Jesus and his disciples were traveling around the region teaching and healing people. As they traveled, Jesus often spent time with people who were not loved by their communities. He was close with people others considered too sick to be near them. He ate with those who others thought were dishonest and unworthy of respect. Many people criticized him for doing so.
- One group of people who Jesus spent time with were tax collectors. Many of God’s people did not like tax collectors. They considered them dishonest. In today’s story, Jesus will meet a tax collector named Zacchaeus.
Read aloud Luke 19: 1-10.
- What does Zacchaeus do when Jesus arrives in his community?
- How does Jesus react when he sees Zacchaeus in the tree?
- What do people in the community say when they discover Jesus and Zacchaeus are spending time together?
- How does Zacchaeus’ time with Jesus change him?
- What does this story tell you about the power of unexpected friendships like that of Jesus and Zacchaeus?
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children connect Luke 19: 1-10 to their own lives. Choose one or more of these activities to complete with the children:
- Watch this video compilation of unlikely animal friendships. [https://youtu.be/_BvB0182xag]. Discuss what makes these relationships unusual and how people can form the same kinds of friendships. Wonder about how these relationships might help us better understand God.
- Watch a video about the Rutba House, a Christian hospitality house in Durham, North Carolina, where unexpected friendships are formed. [https://youtu.be/rmVV_K6vimE] Discuss the ways that this ministry creates opportunities for people to experience relationships like that of Jesus and Zacchaeus.
- Contact a congregation in your community that is different than yours. It might be part of a different Christian denomination or even a different faith tradition. Ask to learn more about the way this community worships and understands God.