When I was a child, we sang a song about Zacchaeus in Sunday school. Perhaps you know the song: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. . . .” One detail about that song puzzled me. Why did the songwriter emphasize Zacchaeus’s height? Yes, I know Luke 19 says Zacchaeus was “short in stature” (v. 3). Still, why did the songwriter use that phrase “a wee little man” twice? Neither the gospel of Luke nor the author of the children’s song say why it’s important to mention Zacchaeus’s height.
Two thousand years ago when Luke sat down a stylus and sheets of papyrus to write his gospel, he could safely assume that he and his readers all shared the same cultural assumptions. However, we are living in a different culture. Consider the McDonald’s hamburger. All of us in this culture know about McDonald’s hamburgers. A modern writer doesn’t have to explain what a McDonald’s hamburger is and the associations it has with the culture of cars, eating while driving, a fast-paced lifestyle, and Happy Meals for children. We already know that stuff without being told. But imagine what would happen if Luke, or Zacchaeus himself, could come back to life and join us in modern America. He would have no idea what a McDonald’s hamburger is. Indeed, a Luke or a Zacchaeus who came back to life would be overwhelmed by thousands of unfamiliar things. Just imagine what Luke or Zacchaeus would think of smart phones.
- Luke 19:1 - 10