Summary: Zacchaeus may have been short in stature, but he was not short on some other important characteristics.

Living Like “Wee” People

Luke 19:1-10

In 1978, composer Randy Newman came out with a parody song entitled “Short People.” The song started out making fun of short people because apparently we like to make fun of short people. The song started:

Short people got no reason

Short people got no reason

Short people got no reason

To live

They got little hands

Little eyes

They walk around

Tellin' great big lies

They got little noses

And tiny little teeth

They wear platform shoes

On their nasty little feet

Well, I don't want no short people

Don't want no short people

Don't want no short people

`Round here

Short people have been offended by short people jokes for ages…like the one about the short guy that walks up to the counter, the cashier says, “That’ll be $4.86.” The short guy says, “Oh, I think I’m a little short.” The cashier says, “How short are you?” The guy looks at the cashier and says, “I’m 5’2”, but what’s my height got to do with it?”

We encounter a “short” person in Luke’s gospel this morning. His name is Zacchaeus, and if you’ve ever been to Sunday school you remember this little song:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,

and a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree

For the Lord he wanted to see.

And when the Savior passed that way

He looked up in the tree.

And said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down!

For I'm going to your house today!

For I'm going to your house today!'

I’m sure Zacchaeus had heard all the short people jokes popular in his day because he wasn’t just short in stature, he was short on reputation. It’s bad enough he was a tax collector, but he was the chief tax collector, and he was the chief tax collector in Jericho of all places.

Let’s talk about tax collectors. The people considered them traitors, cheats and extortioners. They were Jewish men who contracted with the Roman government to collect the Roman taxes from the Jewish people. The problem was the Roman law put no cap on the commission a tax collector could charge for collecting the tax. Rome only cared about their percentage. Whatever the tax collector charged the people for collecting the tax was up to the collector, so tax collectors often charged exorbitant amounts, not to Rome, but to the people who were paying. Think of it this way: The IRS agent shows up on your door, presents you with a tax bill for $1,000, and then the agent says, “But, you have to pay my collection commission, so the total will be $1,250.” Zacchaeus would be that guy, and he was in charge of other tax collectors, in Jericho, which was a center of the tax collecting community. It would be like he was the IRS agency chief in the Austin, Texas office. Zacchaeus was not a well-liked man. He wasn’t despised because he was a short man, but because of his “short” reputation with the people.

I think there are a lot of “short” people in the world. Not short in stature, but short on other important characteristics. I know a lot of people who are short-tempered. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you sometimes I’m one of those people. I know many others who are short on love, and still others who are short on compassion. They are turned inward and are turned off by the suffering and the needs of others. There are others who, because of tragedy or illness or desperation, become short on faith and short on hope, and that can make them become short-sighted. They have no vision beyond the end of their nose. They fail to see the possibilities that exist around them.

There are probably a lot of ways in which Zacchaeus was short. He was probably short-tempered, especially when he dealt with people who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay their tax bill. He was probably pretty short on love and compassion, too. After all, he had spent most of his life chasing his dream of being rich, and had apparently accomplished it in rather short order, too. I don’t find too many old guys out climbing trees. I just turned 50, and though I probably could climb a tree, it’s not on the top of my list of things I want to do these days. To reach the pinnacle of his chosen career, and at a rather young age means he stepped on a lot of people. Seriously, though, if you’re going to spend your life extorting money from folks, you can’t have much concern for their well-being, so love and compassion are not high on your priority list.

I wonder if he was short on faith and hope, too? He had spent most of his adult life apart from the synagogue and the Temple. Tax collectors were considered unclean because of the work they did. He was not a part of the regular worshipping community among his own people. There was little “spiritual formation” or “religious” observance going on in his life. It is with spiritual formation, folks, like it is with so many other things—“Use it or lose it.” Zacchaeus was not using it very much, and likely he became very short on faith and very short on hope. But, as today’s text reminds us, it’s never too late for short people. All it takes is an encounter with Jesus.

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