Summary: Jesus talks about growing in stature, but he is not talking about height. He is talking about growing in servanthood.
Growing in the Right Direction
September 24, 2006
Depending on whom you talk to and who does the measuring, there is any number of different ways to measure a human being. If we wanted to get into an existential discussion of humanity, we would probably remember these famous maxims. “To do is to be” – Immanuel Kant. “To be is to do” – Jean Paul Sartre. “Do be do be do” - Frank Sinatra.
Actually, when we measure a person, we are usually talking about his or her height. As far as I know, I am the first person from either side of my family tree - for at least a couple of generations – to be six feet tall. I was in Jr. High School when I passed my dad’s height. I remember thinking how great it was when I could start looking down on the top of his head. It was a source of even greater pride when my feet grew bigger than his. But I’m no longer the tallest one in the family. My oldest son now has me by a couple of inches, and I look up – way up - to my two nephews.
If we go back into history, I am taller than the average height of men in Medieval England, where the average male height was 5’ 7”. I think that we’ve always assumed that the people in the days of Jesus tended to be shorter than we are, but archeological evidence indicates that they were about our height as well.
Do you want examples from Scripture? There are places in the Bible where the writers go to great lengths to describe and measure particular individuals. King Saul was described in I Samuel 9:2 as being “head and shoulders above everyone else. And who can forget Goliath the giant who was killed in battle by David. I Samuel 17:4 says that he was “six cubits and a span.” I really didn’t know how tall that was until I consulted The Message. There he is described as being nearly ten feet tall. Too bad he wasn’t a Hoosier so he could play on the IU basketball team.
On the other end of the scale is Zacchaeus. You might suspect that he was the shortest person in the Bible. We sing about him in our children’s Sunday School classes. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.”
Luke 19 1-3 says, “He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.”
But you know that Zacchaeus wasn’t the shortest man in the Bible. There was this fellow who asked a friend who was the shortest man in the Bible and his friend said that it was Zacchaeus. He said no, it actually was Nehemiah (he pronounced it Knee–high-miah).
We should know that there is more to the stature of a person than his or her height by the time we get to the story of Samuel and the sons of Jesse. Do you remember this story? God sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem because God said that the next king of Israel would come from one of the sons of Jesse, a resident of that town. So Samuel went down there, met with Jesse, and asked to see his sons. They all passed before him, one by one. They were tall, good looking and strong. As each one paraded in front of Samuel, he kept thinking that surely he was the next king. But God said, “Do not look on the appearance or the height of his stature…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Finally, it was the youngest and smallest of the sons, David, who was chosen. He was the one who had the heart to be king.
In the Scripture lesson for today, we find Jesus engaged in a discussion with his disciples over a matter of stature. This issue of greatness comes up on more than one occasion in the ministry of Jesus. The first must be last and a servant of all. For the Disciples, it was all about being first.
What is really mind-boggling about all of this is that Jesus has already predicted his own passion twice, and would do so again. In Mark 8:31, Jesus says, “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.”