He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. Luke 19:3
As I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon about Zacchaeus, my mind keeps wandering. What was it like being short in biblical times? “Short” and “tall” are relative terms, but Luke tells us that Zacchaeus had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus, so his height created certain disadvantages for him. What other challenges might Zacchaeus have faced because of his height?
Did his career suffer? Did he ever have trouble getting a job, or getting a promotion? Did he experience unconscious bias from potential employers? I wouldn’t dismiss this possibility out of hand – usually the taller presidential candidate wins. Apparently Zacchaeus overcame this obstacle. He was eventually able to get a foot in the door, becoming a tax collector for the Roman Empire.
Did his romantic life suffer? I realize that men didn’t exactly date in biblical times, but as the Italians say, height is half of beauty. Maybe the father of a potential bride disapproved of Zacchaeus, preferring a taller, more attractive man for his daughter?
If there were such things as resumes and applications back then, would Zaccheaus have been tempted to exaggerate his height, adding an inch or two when he thought he could get away with it? This would be understandable, since society often valorizes the tall and belittles the short.
If, as psychologists say, height and self-esteem are so enmeshed, what were the psychological consequences of Zacchaeus’ height? Did he view himself more negatively than his taller peers? Given the pervasive tendency to associate height with power, did Zacchaeus ever struggle with a sense of vulnerability?
Obviously there are no answers to these questions. But our tendency to prefer the tall over the short is undeniable: it’s embedded in our very language. We look up to people we consider superior; those without influence are the little people. Perhaps we see in Zacchaeus an example of who God calls and how God works. The Apostle Paul writes:
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:27–30.