Calculating the Cost

fall colors

Luke 19: 1-10

This lesson uses the story of Zacchaeus to look at giving a percentage of income to the poor. It will encourage participants to pledge giving a percentage of their allowance or income to the poor. It also teaches briefly about the terms, “tithe” and “benevolence.” The main idea of this lesson is to encourage participants to think in terms of percentage rather than a fixed amount. This emphasizes equal sacrifice, rather than equal giving.

Lesson summary: This lesson uses the story of Zacchaeus to look at giving a percentage of income to the poor. It will encourage participants to pledge giving a percentage of their allowance or income to the poor. It also teaches briefly about the terms, “tithe” and “benevolence.” The main idea of this lesson is to encourage participants to think in terms of percentage rather than a fixed amount. This emphasizes equal sacrifice, rather than equal giving.

Context: This is designed to be a 50-60 minute lesson for mixed ages groups with the youngest being about age 10. This lesson involves some math skills and abstract thinking about percentages so it may not be appropriate for children younger than age 10.  It would also work with middle and high school students.  

Lesson Focus:  God wants us to give generously to the poor.

Materials needed:

  • Calculators
  • Play money in $20 or 50 and $100 denominations.
  • Markers
  • Large sheets of newsprint and tape
  • Envelopes and pledging sheets (see sample at the end of the lesson)
  • Copies of the closing prayer
  • Project and internet access to play the Monty Python Money Song.
  • Stand up signs on each table with the Table Talk Time questions.
  • A display about an organization that works with the poor such as a local group or the Heifer Project or the ELCA Good Gifts project.
  • Catalogs for the Heifer Project or the ELCA Good Gifts program

1. To encourage people to give a percentage of their income to the poor and needy;
2. To reach the people with the mathematical multiple intelligence which has an affinity for numbers and patterns;
3. To look at the familiar story of Zacchaeus from a different perspective;
4. To teach the terms , “Tithe” and “Benevolence.”

Biblical Foundation:  Luke 19: 1-10
Luke 14: 28, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” (NRSV)

Room Set Up:  
Set up tables with about 6-8 people at each table. For this lesson it is important to mix up participants by age and possibly separate family members. See the Overview for an easy way to divide people into mixed age groups by using colored name tags. As people come in, have them put on a colored name tag and give them an envelope with $1000 in play money. Explain that each table should have at least one person with a name tag of one of the five colors for the five generations.  

Background on the biblical story:  
Luke tells the story about Zacchaeus who is not simply another wealthy person. He is a tax collector in a country which is occupied by the alien Roman armies. Zacchaeus and other tax collectors were regarded by most people as traitors and cheats. Even if they were not dishonest, they were collaborators with the Roman order, lining their pockets at the expense of their neighbors.

Most Sunday School interpretations about the story of Zacchaeus have focused on his stature as the most critical part of this story. The fact that Zacchaeus is short is only important in that he ended up in the absurd position in which Jesus finds him, that is up a tree! All his dignity and pride were in shreds as soon as Jesus marked him out in that ridiculous position. The idea of a wealthy banker in a three piece suit being caught up in a tree may be the best way to imagine the scene. In this story, there is no lengthy debate with this rich man about the commandments. Jesus simply hails him down from the tree and tells him that he is going to his house which causes the crowd to grumble in moral disapproval. But Zacchaeus receives Jesus joyfully into his house.

Now Zacchaeus is a man who is good with numbers. He has spent his whole career figuring percentages. Zacchaeus knew how to make the numbers work and now in the midst of his joy and acceptance he takes out his calculator once again. But he does not ask Jesus,  What is it going to cost me?” He has already received the gift in that Jesus, the Messiah is breaking bread with him without any conditions. Zacchaeus stands up and gives a great business speech with numbers and percentages and money talk. But Zacchaeus has discovered that the business of God’s kingdom is not only fair, it is generous, and now he intends to stay in business, dealing with others in the same way that Jesus has dealt with him. Thus his speech is a shout of joy, a letting go of his possession in a way that was not possible before his encounter with Jesus. A couple of points about his speech.

  • He knows that the poor are of special concern of the kingdom of God. They are the proper beneficiaries of his thanksgiving to Jesus.
  • Some kind of numbers of percentages is necessary as good business sense — a way of insuring the priority of giving among all of the other claims on financial resources.
  • Justice is a central concern in the kingdom of God. The costs are high to rectify fraud and cheating.
    (Some of this information was taken from “Zacchaeus and the Freedom Fund” written by David L. Tiede for a Hunger Program of the American Lutheran Church.)

Introduction:  (10 minutes)
As an introduction listen to the Monty Python – Money Song which can be found on YouTube. If possible use a projector and show the images to the whole group. You could also use other songs about money such as the chorus from “Money, Money” from the musical, Cabaret. After playing the song, ask the group if they can figure out the theme for the day. Hopefully some one will say, “Money.” Explain to the group that today’s event is about money and that each table group will have three minutes to come up with a list of all the things they can do with money. Give each group marker and a large sheet of paper. At the end of three minutes, ask each group to post their list. Read through some of the items listed. Then emphasize that there are four main things we can do with money: Earn it, give it, spend it, or save it.

Table Talk Time:  (15 minutes)
Say to the group, “First let’s talk about earning and spending money.  Each group will discuss two questions. Each table should identify the person whose birthday was closest to today. They will begin to answer each question. Each person will have about two minutes to answer each question so please keep your answers brief.” You may want to use the Mutual Invitation Discussion Technique as outlined in the Leader’s Guide. On each table have a stand up sign with these questions.
1. How old were you when you first got an allowance? How much was it? How old were you when you got your first paycheck? What type of a job did you do to get that pay?
2. How did you spend your first paycheck or your first allowance?
At the end of the discussion time, tell the group that most of us have access to money in some way. Then we have to decide how much to spend or how much to save or to give away. Most of our time today will be spent on thinking about giving money away.  

Activity:  (15 minutes)

Round one: Say to the group, “We are going to play a game to practice giving money away. Each of you has an envelope with $1000 in play money. When I give the signal, you are to give away as much money as you can in 5 minutes. You have to accept whatever any one gives you by saying ‘Thank you.” Any questions? Ready, go.” (Closely watch the time and end after five minutes.) After five minutes, ask everyone to sit down and count their money. Who has the least? As a prize, give them a catalog for the Heifer Project or the ELCA Good Gifts program.  

Round Two: Say to the group, “Now we are going to do a “getting round.” The goal is to get as much money as possible. There are no rules as to how you get money from other people. You again will have five minutes to collect as much money as you can. Ready, go.” Call time at the end and ask people to count their money. Who had the most money? How did they go about getting money?

Activity Reflection Time:   (10 minutes)
Reflect with the large group on these questions:  

  • Which round did you enjoy the most? Why?  
  • How did you feel during the “getting” round? During the “giving” round.  
  • What did you learn about giving from this activity?  

Biblical Study:  (10 minutes)
Say to the group, “Today as part of our study of money, we are going to listen to a biblical story about a man who had a lot of money. He was despised by other people because he was a tax collector and could easily cheat by collecting too much money. But he had a change of heart and at the end of the story gave away a lot of money. Listen as I read the story of Zacchaeus from the gospel of Luke.”  
Then read the story of Zacchaeus or have some participants act out this story. Ask everyone to listen to how much money Zacchaeus gave away and why.  

After reading the story, ask the group how much money Zacchaeus gave away and why. (Possible answer: Zacchaeus said that he would give ? of what he owned to the poor because the poor are important to God. And that he would give back 4 times or 400% to anyone from whom he cheated or collected too much tax. Why? Because of his encounter with Jesus.)

Ask each group to combine their play money and count the total. Then using a calculator figure out 10% of the total and 50% of the total.

Tell the participants that 10%  is often listed as the benchmark of giving and is called a tithe. But Zacchaeus gave much more than that. Zacchaeus went way beyond a title and said that he would give half of his money to the poor. Then ask each group take the ?  of their pile of money to the table where there is a display about an organization that works with the poor.  

Explain to the group the term “benevolence.” Benevolence is defined as a desire to promote the happiness of others or an act of kindness. (according to the Thorndike-Barnhart World Book Dictionary.) Zacchaeus demonstrated benevolence by giving away ? of his money to the poor. He shared his joy of being with Jesus by sharing money with others.

Table Talk Time:
Ask people at each table to tell about money they or their family has given to help poor people in the past year. (Have these questions on the back of the standup sign at each table or put on a sheet of paper.) Did they give to a food shelf or United Way or another organization? Why did they give money to that family or organization? How did they figure out how much to give? How did they feel after giving that benevolence gift?

Response Time:
Give each person a pledge card. Ask them to reflect on a percentage of their income or allowance that they could commit to giving away to the poor. This will only be between them and God. Ask them to fill in the pledge care, put it into an envelope that they will seal and then take home. You could emphasize that they could begin to think about 10%  of their salary or allowance but then adjust that up or down. Encourage them to pledge a percentage rather than a specific amount.    

Say to the group, “Today we heard a story about Zacchaeus giving away ? of his money to the poor as a result of his encounter with Jesus. We practiced giving money away and reflected on what percentage of our actual income we could give away to the poor. Thinking about a percentage rather than a fixed amount helps us to realize that those of us who are blessed with more income are also blessed with the opportunity to give more away. The emphasis is on equal sacrifice rather than equal giving.”
Read together this closing prayer:  
“Dear Lord, help us to respond joyfully to your presence in our lives — just like Zacchaeus. Help us to give generously to the poor and those in need. We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.”


1. How much of  your congregation’s budget is given to the poor? If your congregation gives a percentage of the budget as benevolence, share that percentage with the group. Also share the names of the organizations that receive the benevolence. Create a chart with a pie graph  or a bar graph with percentages to help people see this number visually.

2. Give participants digital cameras and send them around the church in teams to take pictures of the ways that the congregations uses money. Then create a PowerPoint slide show and write a script. The script could be read and recorded on tape or read while showing the slides. Some suggested slide show subjects are:

  • Church building — where God’s people meet
  • Heating and cooling of the building
  • Custodian — who cares for God’s house
  • Church secretary — who informs and organizes
  • Pastor — who preaches, teaches, marries, baptizes, buries and cares for all.
  • Projects such as making quilts, health kits, or collecting food for the food shelf.
  • Educational activities such as bible studies, Sunday School, youth groups, adult forums, etc.

3. Zacchaeus also returned 400% or 4 times of the money that he cheated from people. This is restorative justice which is currently an important term in many schools, especially high schools that deal with students who have drug and alcohol addition. You could lead a discussion about restorative justice related to the effort by Zacchaeus to make restoration to those he cheated and how much harder that is.

Appendix #2    Sample Pledge Card

Today I pledge to give ______ percent of my

allowance/ salary  (circle one)         each week/ month  (circle one)  to

(name of an organization that works with the poor or to feed the hungry.)  

My Name ___________________________________________________

Date ____________


Dr. Diane E. Shallue is Director of Christian Education at University Lutheran Church of Hope in Minneapolis, MN.

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