“Zaccheus 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.”
This fun jingle from children’s church is what most of us remember about Zaccheus. He was a man of small stature. “Vertically challenged” is the politically correct terminology to use. I picture Hollywood actor Danny DeVito when I think about Zaccheus.
Zaccheus, the tax collector from Jericho who climbed a sycamore tree to catch a view of Jesus, is the Spud Webb of the New Testament. Spud Webb was one of the shortest men to ever play in the NBA at 5 feet 7 inches tall. Think about that. Basketball is a tall man’s sport, but Spud Webb never let his small stature get in the way of him becoming a big presence on the basketball court.
Spud played point guard for the Atlanta Hawks and is famous for winning the slam dunk contest. Yes, the slam dunk contest! Today, Spud Webb is a motivational speaker who says, “I didn’t play small. You have to go out and play with what you have. I admit I used to want to be tall. But I made it in high school, college, and the pros. So it doesn’t matter.” That’s one motivated guy!
Randy Newman is a creative artist who wrote a famous song called “Short People.” Randy sings, “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. Don’t want no short people ‘round here.” I don’t picture Randy Newman and Zaccheus hangin’ out together, do you?
I have always wondered why it mattered to the Holy Spirit to include the detail about Zaccheus’s physical size. Luke 19:3 says, “He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.” So what?
It occurred to me that Zaccheus’s physical limitation illustrates an important spiritual truth we all need to accept: we are short people. Allow me to explain.
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (italics added). Zacchaeus had a real physical challenge. He was too short to see over the crowd when Jesus came through Jericho. But short or tall, fat or thin, each of us has a real spiritual problem. We miss the mark. We fall short of the righteous standard God demands of those who have a right relationship with him.
Perhaps a baseball illustration will help. Suppose God measured the standard of his righteousness by how far a person can throw a baseball. And suppose the length of the standard was from my home in Fairfax Station, Virginia, to the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia. Because I played baseball in high school, I might be able to throw it farther than you. Ryan Zimmerman plays third base for the Washington Nationals and can most definitely throw it father than me. But even Ryan Zimmerman’s throw falls short of the Washington Monument as does mine. Nobody can throw a baseball far enough to reach the Washington Monument. Nobody. We all fall short of God’s righteous standard.
I can think of at least ten ways we fall short.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall not make for yourself an idol.”
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
“You shall not commit adultery.”
“You shall not steal”
Shall I go on?
How about this one? “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Ouch! Randy Newman was right. Short people “walk around tellin’ great big lies.”
I’ll say it again in case you missed it: we are short people in God’s eyes. Only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ can we become spiritual Spud Webbs and dunk a basketball.