Bullying, taking advantage of others never pays

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Nov. 3 for St. Peter Parish’s 110th anniversary in Pine Bluff.

Probably most of us know someone who is afflicted with the “little guy syndrome” — the little bully who thinks he has to prove something, a malady which does not afflict all those who are physically small, nor is it limited to those who are physically small. 

Some of those afflicted with this syndrome strut around like a banty rooster looking to pick a fight, others bully people verbally with aggressive language, especially subordinates at work — as if mistreating others could somehow make him feel better about himself. And some will do almost anything in the pursuit of power or wealth, as if these things could compensate for his deep feelings of inferiority.

In today’s Gospel Zacchaeus was a little guy who got wealthy by exploiting others. In those days the tax collectors bought the taxation franchise, which allowed them to then extort as much from the people as they dared, so long as they forwarded to Rome the stipulated amount. Zacchaeus had gotten rich in this system, but neither the bullying nor the ill-gained wealth left him feeling any better about himself — and when Jesus reaches out to him non-judgmentally, he knows that this is the opportunity he needs to turn his life around. He gives half of his wealth to the poor and repays fourfold those he has exploited — thus reestablishing himself as an honorable man. Giving back leaves him far better off personally than accumulating wealth ever did.

Today we celebrate the 110th anniversary of the founding of St. Peter Parish here in Pine Bluff in 1903, the oldest African-American Catholic structure west of the Mississippi River. And when Father John Dorsey came to serve your parish two years later  in 1905,  he became the first African-American priest to become pastor in a Southern state — right here in Pine Bluff.

The people who founded this parish were not so much like Zacchaeus as they were like the people Zacchaeus had exploited. Jim Crow had a bad case of the “little guy syndrome,” which extended all the way back to the beginning of slavery. And he was far more than just a bully. Jim Crow would stop at nothing to keep those whom he imagined as his inferiors in their place, but none of his ill-gained wealth made him feel any better about himself. It is quite understandable that the people he oppressed lived in fear, but so did he, and the leaders of the civil rights movement knew this. But it was going to be a long battle to set that banty rooster free and reestablish him as an honorable man after hundreds of years exploiting others. We’re still waiting for him to repay fourfold those whom he has exploited — we’ve been waiting for this for a long time.

The people whom Zacchaeus exploited turned to God for strength to get through the troubles they faced. And wasn’t this also the case for the people who founded this parish? They turned to their Catholic faith for strength to get through the troubles of the last 110 years.

But it wasn’t all trouble: we have many reasons to be grateful. We remember the Colored Industrial Institute founded in the 1880s, later to become St. Peter School; and St. Raphael Mission founded in 1932 to care for orphans. We remember the Josephite Fathers and the Divine Word Fathers and the School Sisters of Notre Dame who have served us so generously; and the ordination of our beloved Deacon Elton Harrison 20 years ago; and the recipients of the Daniel Rudd Award, some of whom are here with us today. We have much to be grateful for.

But we should also never forget that we are not exempt from the temptation to give in to the little guy syndrome ourselves, regardless of our race or size. Any time we bully others, we’re acting no different than Jim Crow, though on a much smaller scale. And any time we take advantage of others financially, we’re no different than Zacchaeus. 

And neither bullying nor ill-gained wealth leaves us feeling any better about ourselves either — so Jesus reaches out to us non-judgmentally too, giving us the opportunity to turn our lives around, inviting us to repay fourfold anyone we have taken advantage of financially — thus reestablishing us as honorable people too. Giving back leaves us far better off personally than accumulating wealth ever can.

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