31st Sunday in Ordinary time

A shockingly sexualised public performance of a pop-music starlet a few weeks ago raised a lot of discussion in the media, so much so that even those who hadn’t watched it (like myself) had quite a full view of that event. Frankly I personally wasn’t particularly surprised, as scandals and sexualisation have, for the last 50-60 years, been one of the ways of drawing attention to certain performers. It’s been a way of getting them to stand out from the massive crowd of similarly mediocre ‘wannabes’, otherwise unnoticeable to the wider audience.

What might work for less talented but brave enough performers is, rather, a ‘no-no’ for anyone else. Most of us still hold to the old belief that it is personal and professional qualities that make some people stand out from the crowd. Most of us still feel embarrassed when caught red-handed doing something silly. Most of us want to be perceived as serious and respected individuals. Some professions or public offices are particularly associated with properly distinguished, even slightly stiff, manners. Some of our parishioners have expressed directly to me that, compared to priests they have known in the past, I’ve been quite a different kettle of fish, with my rather humorous and lightly-taken self-respect. I hope that’s a positive thing.

Let’s think now about Zacchaeus, the main character in today’s gospel, as a man of certain position and influence in Jericho’s business class. As a senior tax-collector he had to remain a respected figure, conducting himself with the utmost propriety and avoiding behaving like a clown in public. Let’s be honest: climbing a tree was definitely not part of that job description. His action looked childish and foolish; he risked losing his reputation. From his point of view, that potential loss was acceptable. He was too desperate to see Jesus, desperate enough to accept that making a fool of himself was worth the risk.

That paid off. The assembled crowd made seeing Jesus impossible to Zacchaeus, who was too small. Sitting up in the tree, he made himself noticeable to Jesus, who requested that he should stay in Zacchaeus’s house. Nobody in the crowd was honoured like ‘that fool up in the tree’. Zacchaeus was so happy that he threw a party, gave away half his wealth, and promised to compensate everyone who might have been cheated by him.

In the Book of the Apocalypse there’s one passage that might be a bit alarming: ‘I know all about you: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.’ (Ap 3:15-16) It says, in a highly condensed form, that God expects us to be totally involved in a loving relationship with him. Such an utter commitment is not important for him, but for each one of us. God generously responds to those who are desperate to see him. He’s always ready to act; the ball is in your court.