This Sunday’s readings remind us—as if we needed reminding—of how small we are in relation to the divine. The first reading from the book of Wisdom sets the tone:
“Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.”
The problem with humans is that repentance doesn’t sit well with us. We all suffer from “Little Man Syndrome,” otherwise known as “Napoleon Complex.” No matter what our physical stature is, just living through the challenges of daily life reminds us how powerless we are. Like Napoleon, in our minds we are puny beings, so we tend to overcompensate for our shortcomings. This can have good or bad consequences.
Take my favorite entertainer of all time, Sammy Davis, Jr., for example. He was a great showman, despite the facts that not only was he scrawny, but he was far from what many would consider handsome. His self-consciousness and isolation through childhood left him with a tremendous hunger to be loved and admired. He achieved that by overcompensating with the raw talents God gave him.
Now, in Napoleon’s case, his diminutive size made him hunger for power and domination. He overcompensated for his appearance in a way that played out in overly-aggressive, domineering social behavior, often leading to cruelty.
That also describes Sinatra.
What really drives our desires, whether for love or dominance, is fear. Human beings realize how small we are in relation to God’s universe, and, under certain circumstances, it’s easy for us to lose hope that God—or anyone—would even be mindful of us. That’s why in our second reading from the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, he tries to calm our fears that our unworthiness will ultimately be our doom.
“We ask you, brothers and sisters,
with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our assembling with him,
not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed
either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us
to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.”
But it is in today’s gospel reading where we can find real comfort to counteract our Little Man Syndrome. In the Gospel of Luke, all of mankind can relate to this one little man named Zacchaeus.
This little guy also happened to be a tax collector—the type of person who’s usually hated for his power over other people. The fact Zacchaeus was shorter than most gave him another disadvantage—which proved particularly bothersome for him in the context of this reading because he wanted to get a glimpse of Jesus, this rock star everyone was talking about. Trouble was, he couldn’t see over the towering crowds around him. But he used his Little Man Syndrome to his advantage by channeling his overwhelming desire to see Jesus into the courage he needed to climb a tall sycamore tree.
“When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
‘Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.’
Jesus rewarded Zacchaeus for his efforts to overcompensate for his stature. His prize was an overwhelming sense of God’s love.
Come to think of it, I think God has a case of Little Man Syndrome by Proxy. He’s always overcompensating for man’s shortcomings and therefore, always forgiving us. Jesus’ death on a cross is this syndrome’s ultimate symptom; and our salvation.