January 19, 2021

“A Short Salvation” : Key to The Scriptures?

jesus-south-park.JPG***Humor Alert***

So I get this occasional podcast of sermons and talks by Bishop Will Willimon, a fine preacher in the estimation of your internet monk and most knowledgeable homelitical types. The sermon I am listening to was preached at Beeson Divinity School at the Conger Lectures on Preaching. Willimon’s sermon was called “Short Salvation,” and it was on the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19:

19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

You can find the podcast episode at iTunes. Just search for Willimon and it’s a couple of episodes ago.

Ok….here’s the thing: Willimon says it’s not Zaccheus who’s short. It could be Jesus.

“He was short of stature” could mean Jesus.

Maybe Zaccheus got up in the tree to see Jesus because Jesus was a short person, and it was hard to see him unless you got up in a tree and looked down when he came by.

I know. I know. But stay with me here.

So I bring this up at lunch today, and we start seeing all kinds of light on the New Testament.

This is why Jesus vanished from the angry mob at Nazareth. He was short.

This is why his parents didn’t notice he was gone for a couple of days when he was twelve. He was a small person.

This is why they wanted to throw him off of a cliff. It’s…..

So what about it? How does the theory that Jesus should be played by Verne Troyer or Robert Reich shed light on the Bible?


  1. David Wright says

    Maybe he was so calm during the storm because he couldn’t see over the side of the boat . . .

  2. LOL. The theory is only slightly undermined by the fact that the pronoun “he” clearly refers to Zacchaeus in every other occurrence in verses 2 to 4.

    But a more serious point: I’m sure we don’t take to heart sufficiently the prophecy by Isaiah that there was “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”. Christian art has tended to portray Jesus as (in Alan Bennett’s words) “a bit of a dish” – though, as Bennett adds, “one must not say so”.

    IIRC, there was an early tradition of the church which said that Jesus was a hunchback. Our instinctive reaction to the idea of a short, or hunchbacked, or just plain ugly Jesus probably tells us a lot about our unspoken assumptions of what constitutes “perfect” humanity.

  3. Correction: the pronoun “he” clearly refers to Zacchaeus in every other occurrence in verses 2 to 4, except when it doesn’t. 😉

  4. Thanks for correcting yourself. Bishop Willimon has given us an insight that can change the way millions of us relate to the Bible.

    For instance, perhaps Jesus NEEDED to ride on that donkey.

    Perhaps the tables of the money changers were just too tall.

    Perhaps a manger was a frequent bed for Jesus, even as an adult.

  5. Like Danny DeVito? He would be a perfect Zacchaeus though.

  6. I don’t think I could just “stoop down” and write in the sand the way Jesus does in John 8. He’s either short or very flexible. And that escaping through the crowd thing was my idea. I want a nickel everytime you say that.

  7. Big Sandy says

    As a short person (5’5″) who has used his size to sneak through crowds and can go unnoticed at times, why haven’t I realized this before?

  8. My son says this explains why Jesus always wanted to preach on a mountain.

  9. Kris Greenleaf says

    Actually, Jesus probably was under 5’4″ – just because he was a Jewish man of his time.

    We always picture Him being about six feet tall or even taller – in many churches, he seems to be about seven feet tall – but if he had been six feet tall he would have stood out from the crowd and looked grotesque in his culture, and probably something would have been mentioned about his enormous height.

    So the next time you picture talking to Jesus, think of Him as a short Jewish guy. You’ll be closer to first century reality.

  10. Being short in stature myself I embrace that take on the ambiguous nature of the Greek concerning who was short in that passage.

    Then you take into account the fact that the average height in their day was probably significantly shorter than today and that would put Jesus being really, really short.

  11. It’s why he asked the woman at the well for some water. He couldn’t reach the rope all on his own.

  12. J. Kru: Now that’s what I’m talking about. A ++

  13. I hate to be the voice of dissension, but surely Matthew 21:7 totally refutes the notion that Jesus was short. Unless he was peculiarly long-legged, surely he’d never be able to sit astride the donkey and the colt as a short fellow?

  14. His apostles, too; that’s why they were all able to go about in one Accord, which I can assure you don’t have much leg-room.

    He came from a family of compact-car drivers, too; we Catholics are all quite familiar with Mary’s Fiat.

  15. Isn’t it amazing how “set” we get in our ideas and ways of reading the Bible? Of course, I don’t believe that we’ll know how tall Jesus was until we see him, but for years, we’ve sung about “the wee little man” climbing the tree. We need reflections such as Bishop Will’s just to shake us up and help us see in fresh new ways.

    I’m coming to see how important the verb “see” is in regard to Jesus. We might define conversion as coming to see as Jesus did/does–a process that continues in our lives as we walk and grow with him. After all, as disiples of his, we need to be life-long learners.

  16. Is this why He said that “And I, if I be lifted up from the world, I will draw all men unto me”?

  17. So in the theology of Rev. Randy Newman Jesus was not crucified to save the world or because he ticked off the Romans or the Jewish leaders. He was executed because he was short.

    “Well, I don’t want no Short People
    Don’t want no Short People
    Don’t want no Short People
    Round here”

    I could not resist… 😀

  18. JohnO: Heretic

    All: I’m ready to start a denomination.

  19. LOLZ this is hilarious. But seriously, it’s a great thing that Jesus can be short for the short, tall for the tall, black for the black, white for the white, etc. Not that we should separate ourselves that way but you know what I mean.

  20. Milton Freidman.

    For years, I pictured Jesus to look like Milton Freidman. Now I know why!

  21. I’ve seen lots of little kids riding ponies and even large horses – they look rather silly and not particularly dignified, but I don’t think Jesus was particularly worried about dignity.

    I’m wondering about how short Jesus might have been if the average height was 5’5″! If he was under 5′ then it was quite an accomplishment walking all over the country! And, along with the beating He had taken, maybe this is another reason someone was forced to carry the cross for Him!

    What do you want to call your denomination? It’s got to be something hip but old, full of future-ancient meaning and stuff.

  22. So *that’s* why He was so concerned about “the least of these my brethren…”

    Or maybe He meant that “brethren” thing literally! Maybe all His family were really really short — some kind of genetic thing!

  23. Ryan Cordle says

    His small stature is of course why Jesus related well to children.

    But wait, does this mean lil’ Evelyn will have to stay short in heaven? 🙁


  24. Jesus was 5’11” tall and around 175lbs. He wore long hair and a manly beard.

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