March 15, 2018

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

I was four years old when Randy Newman’s song Short People first hit the airwaves in 1977. You may remember it for its catchy hook and prejudicial premise:

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
To live

They got little hands and little eyes
And they walk around tellin’ great big lies
They got little noses and tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes on their nasty little feet

As I grew up and the song gained popularity, its lyrics became a common way for kids at my school to tease each other for their height. Hardly an elementary school year went by when I didn’t hear it at least a handful of times.

One common interpretation of the song was that Randy Newman wasn’t really writing about discrimination against short people, but about prejudice based on any of a number of kinds of other “-isms” in our culture. Some people didn’t see it that way, as the song elicited protests at his concerts and even death threats from those who were offended by it.

Newman says the reaction was even stronger than he expected. He had thought his song was clearly a caricature of the prejudicial person. “But the song reached people who aren’t looking for irony,” he said to Rolling Stone. “For them, the words mean exactly what they say. I can imagine being a short kid in junior high school. I thought about it before I let the record get out … I know what I meant – the guy in that song is crazy. He was not to be believed.”

THE SHORT PERSON IN THE GOSPELS

I thought about Newman’s song this week as I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon on Zacchaeus, the vertically challenged tax collector who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus. Many of us know that story well, as veterans of Sunday schools where we sung about him, and stewardship sermons where we were told to follow his example.

But Newman’s song invites me to consider a lesser noted character in the story. The crowds. The people who watched in astonishment as Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner and chose to fellowship with him.

Their disdain for Zacchaeus was brimming through their teeth, as they grumbled in disgust at the sight of a wretched character like Zacchaeus getting to have private time with Jesus. Luke says, “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.'” (Luke 19:7)

So you can imagine someone in the crowd, sneaking over to Zacchaeus’ stereo, punching a few buttons on their playlist, and calling up Randy Newman’s song for a little dinner music…

Well, I don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Round here

Short people got nobody
Short people got nobody
Short people got nobody
To love

Yep. I’d like to think that when Randy Newman wrote this song, he was thinking about a main character much like the crowds watching Jesus and Zacchaeus dine together.

The problem, of course, is that Jesus had a different idea of who was and who wasn’t worthy of his time. The very people that others rejected – those were the ones he liked to hang out with the most. Because he, too, would know what it would feel like to be teased, tormented, and rejected. And when Jesus overheard the grumbling from the crowd full of “Short People” protagonists, he would offer the following rebuttal:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

And that’s why, the next time I think about Randy Newman’s song, I’ll try not to remember it for its opening verse, the one I heard used to tease others in school. I’ll remember this verse, the bridge, which really packs a punch:

Short people are just the same
As you and I
(A fool such as I)
All men are brothers
Until the day they die
(It’s a wonderful world)

Grace and peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

VISIONING CHATS SUNDAY

The Vision Team continues its visioning chats this Sunday, at 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. at the Hyde Park campus, and 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. at The Portico campus. This one-hour session gives you the opportunity to provide direct feedback that will help us clarify and claim God’s exciting future for this church. To reserve a spot at one of these sessions, register here.

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