- From Wisdom: God’s Love and Mercy Extend to All
- From the Gospel: The Science of Smallness and Giving Dignity to Those “Small in Stature”
- From the Gospel: Seeing Jesus — and Being Seen by Jesus
- The Psychology of Mercy https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286624821_Forgiveness_and_mercy_A_psychological_approach
- Forgiveness, Mercy and the Prodigal Son https://www.rejoicecounseling.com/forgiveness-mercy-and-the-prodigal-son-bridging-theology-with-psychology/
- The power of mercy podcast https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/the-power-of-mercy/
On being small of stature
- The Psychiatric Aspects of Dwarfism https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.133.2.160?journalCode=ajp
- Dwarfism: Symptoms and Causes https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dwarfism/symptoms-causes/syc-20371969
- Short and Tall Soldiers May Face Increased Depression Risk https://www.livescience.com/47174-military-height-depression-risk.html
- Height, Social Comparison and Paranoia https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178113007774
- Falling Short: On Implicit Biases and the Discrimination of Short Individuals https://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1432&context=law_review
- Seeing and perception
- Perception: Seeing is not believing podcast https://insidepersonalgrowth.com/podcast-762-perception-seeing-is-not-believing-with-james-and-steph-purpura/
- Looks can deceive: why perception and reality do not aways match up https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/looks-can-deceive/#
- Optical illusions show how we see (Tedtalk) https://www.ted.com/talks/beau_lotto_optical_illusions_show_how_we_see?language=en
Homily Outline Combining Resources
Homily outline on Smallness and God’s boundless Mercy
- Introduction: Meeting Zacchaeus, “Short in Stature”
- This Gospel introduces us to one of the more unusual characters in scripture, the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus.
- He is the only one identified in the Gospels explicitly by his physical stature; Luke reports that Zacchaeus had trouble seeing Jesus because he was “short in stature,” so he climbed up a sycamore tree for a better view.
- Zacchaeus’s size could be perceived a symbolic reflection of his status in the community — the “smallness” mirroring in some ways the popular perception of tax collectors as sinful, greedy men.
- Yet the first reading, from Wisdom, about the Lord valuing even the smallest grain, challenges us to think differently about what is happening in this event.
- Does his size reflect another aspect of his life?
- The science of smallness
- Researchers have found some common psychological characteristics among men who are “short in stature.”
- One study among soldiers found men at both extremes, very short or very tall, can have serious problems of self-esteem https://www.livescience.com/47174-military-height-depression-risk.html. They may suffer from depression or anxiety.
- Research has found similar results among people suffering from dwarfism, with men often experiencing “emotional distress.” https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.133.2.160?journalCode=ajp
- One experiment using virtual reality found reducing a person’s height can even give a feeling of paranoia and mistrust https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178113007774
- According to several studies, beyond feeling a diminished sense of self, people who are shorter than average also face social diminishment. The Connecticut Law Review found significant instances of “height discrimination,” and a lack of legal action to solve the problem. https://opencommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1432&context=law_review
- All this suggests that in Zacchaeus we are encountering a (very short) figure who confronted a (very long) list of social, psychological and moral challenges. All of which helped make him the man who was spotted by Jesus watching from atop a tree — a complicated figure who, perhaps, was also a victim of his own biology.
- The response of Christ
- Tellingly, Jesus speaks to Zacchaeus before Zacchaeus says anything to him; Christ notices someone who has likely spent his life been overlooked.
- Jesus invites himself into Zacchaeus’s world, and into his home. The first response of the crowd is that Jesus has aligned himself with a tax collector a sinner.
- However, Christ’s response says something more: “This man too is a descendant of Abraham.” Jesus affirms that this someone who had been shunned and (literally) looked down on has status, dignity, stature, worth.
- Zacchaeus, for his part, “comes down quickly” and receives Jesus with joy. He expresses contrition and pledges to give to the poor and says if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.”
- He realizes he is worthy of Christ’s time and attention. Jesus announces that the “Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
- The Takeaway: Honoring the Outcast with Dignity and Respect
- As he did so often, Jesus makes time for and gives attention to those on the margins — in this case, a man literally looked down upon and, in this episode, hidden in the branches of a tree.
- Zacchaeus was also a man who was considered a sinner — seen as sinful and unscrupulous. We turn again to the first reading, from Wisdom: “Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.” To God, even the smallest measure matters; the insignificant is significant. He “loves all things that are.”
- Mercy and forgiveness are linked. From a psychological perspective, forgiveness can be considered a special form of mercy which is a more general concept reflecting kindness, compassion, or leniency toward a transgressor https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286624821_Forgiveness_and_mercy_A_psychological_approach
- What are aspects of life that make us feel small? Unimportant? Insecure? Jesus sees what others often miss and reaches out to them to help them feel included and embraced extending not only forgiveness but also the mercy and kindness that allows Jesus to invite himself into Zacchaeus’ own house.
- This event carries a message of mercy, outreach, and hope — no sin is too great, no person too insignificant in the eyes of God. Every person has dignity and is worthy of respect and, when called for, mercy.
Preaching with Sciences
Edward Foley, Capuchin
Duns Scotus Professor Emeritus of Spirituality
Professor of Liturgy and Music (retired)
Catholic Theological Union
Vice-Postulator, Cause of Blessed Solanus