“Popular wisdom” is often an oxymoron. Such is the case with something called “Short man syndrome.” There is no medical or psychological foundation for the term, but it’s used a lot. Sometimes it gets an historical nod, being called “Napoleon complex.”
The stereotypical “victims” of the condition are the short people among us, whom in today’s lingo might be called “vertically challenged.” Because of their missing height, such people are said to be overly aggressive and are likely to do a lot of shouting and loud talking. They do this allegedly to seek attention. They often maintain strong opinions about things, so eager are they to prove themselves. You get the idea. You may even know somebody like that.
We know nothing of the famous short fellow Zacchaeus other than what St. Luke tells us, so we cannot categorize him as one of the above. We do know he held the worst job in town. He made his money working for the hated Romans as one of their tax collectors. We can be sure that he was ostracized by the Jewish townspeople. He was likely often alone at night when others might be dining out, or otherwise socializing. Today we might call him “marginalized.” That would be enough right there to have him show up on Our Lord’s “radar.” So Jesus does spot Zacchaeus, half hiding up there in that sycamore tree just waiting for a glance of the Man of wonder that he might not otherwise have the chance to see, much less meet.
But is he ever in for the surprise of his life! For the Lord looks up, likely with a kind smile on His handsome face, and with a wave of His strong arm, urges Zacchaeus to come on down. Not only that, He tells the poor little rich man that He’d like to dine that evening at his home! Was there a word equivalent to “Wow” that Zacchaeus said? We can only guess. Obviously we have no video of this scene, but you have to imagine the looks of shock on the faces of the townspeople gathered around who heard the rabbi, the one they call “Master,” just say that He is going to “that one’s” house to eat? Unbelievable!!”
Of course, that’s precisely Jesus’ point. God can be unbelievable at times with His decisions. Here Jesus, the “sign of contradiction” chooses to reach out to this little social leper who had climbed up so that Jesus could reach out.
Come to think of it, that is precisely what Jesus is always doing to us: reaching out. No matter our bodily height. He came among us to end this separation from our best self, the one attuned to God. Alienation from God takes many forms. Not always dramatic, much less the stuff of novels. Sometimes it is so subtle that we miss it. Or we catch what’s happening but refuse to admit there is a problem.
For example, take the use of coarse language. It is disrespectful of the person(s) who hear it. That is to say also that it is irreverent of a part of God’s creation It may even give scandal to “little ones,” by that I mean children. Such speech can also be a thinly veiled form of violence. And certainly it would make us most uncomfortable in the presence of Jesus. The same holds true for racial slurs. Or deliberately ignoring the speed limit on the road. Having little tolerance for another’s unintentional mistake. A little too much to drink too often. Little lies now and then. None of these are earth-shaking, but each tears down the ideals set for us at Baptism, and the promises we made at our Confirmation.
We don’t know whether or not Zacchaeus bragged about his visitor and that wonderful supper he enjoyed with Him. But boasting is one of those forms of pride that not only violates humility but also can backfire on us.
A newly promoted Army colonel moved into his new and impressive office. As he sat behind his new big desk, a private knocked at his door. “Just a minute,” the colonel said, “I’m on the phone.” He picked up the phone and said loudly, ”Yes sir, General, I’ll call the President this afternoon. No sir, I won’t forget.” Then he hung up the phone and told the private to come in. “What can I help you with?” the colonel asked. “Well, sir, the private replied, “I’ve come to hook up your phone.”