When I was a girl, there was a boy in my school who had made himself locally famous for being a bully. Looking back, he reminded me of Biff from Back to the Future. Do you remember him, always tormenting the McFlys? There is nothing quite so infuriating as mean kids who try to build themselves up by pushing others down.
Sometimes, mean kids grow up to be mean adults, and in a gross abuse of power, they make the people around them feel small through passive-aggressive remarks, coercion, and victimization. Sadly, some of you know what I’m talking about.
“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” Machiavelli wrote long ago. Machiavelli’s words were an endorsement for manipulation as a means to power. He was arguing, in a sense, that the way to greatness is to make others feel small.
But that’s not true at all, of course. No one has ever become truly great by making others feel small.
No truly great boy mocks the underdog.
No truly great woman gossips about her neighbor.
No truly great girl decides who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
No truly great boss publicly embarrasses his employee.
No truly great man slugs his wife.
No truly great leader lies to get ahead.
No truly great father rules by intimidation and name-calling.
No truly great person makes others feel small.
Do you remember Zacchaeus? He’s a guy who perhaps felt small, because, in fact, he was. Zacchaeus was so small he had to climb up a tree to see Jesus. I wonder how much he overcompensated for his height by cheating and lying to people — operating out of fear instead of love. In his chase for greatness, he treated others small.
But then, along comes Jesus, the One who — in His own greatness — did not make Zacchaeus feel small at all. He made him feel loved. Jesus didn’t give Zacchaeus a public upbraiding; Jesus gave him an invitation to dinner.
Where are you today, friend? Do you feel small? Has someone made you shrink under their words, actions, or passive-aggressive behavior?
Maybe you’ve been treated small by some power-hungry Zacchaeus in your life. Don’t let the bullies tell you what you’re worth. The greatest leader of all time says you’re worth more than gold. In fact, God says you are worth a Son!
For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son. (John 3:16)
Maybe, in this moment, you feel the gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit. Maybe you’ve been a Zacchaeus, and recognize how you’ve made mistakes by misusing your power. If that’s you, this isn’t the end of your story either. Today is a new day, and Jesus is inviting you into true greatness, a paradoxical place of great humility — where love reigns and fear is overcome.
YOUR TURN: What makes a truly great person? Share about the people in your life who make others feel like treasured somebodies, the way Jesus does for us.