Cleese, Barker, Corbett and Zacchaeus!

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Cleese, Barker, Corbett and Zacchaeus preached by Revd Keith Underhill 9th July 2017.

Of all the sketches that ever appeared on the 'The Frost Report', the best remembered, and the one most often cited as the finest example of the shows style and what is was all about, was the one written by Marty Feldman/John Law about class.

This involved a 6ft 5" John Cleese standing next to 5ft 8" Ronnie Barker who in turn stood next to 5ft Ronnie Corbett, and using each man's height to illustrate their standing in society.

John Cleese begins by saying that "I look down on him, (Ronnie Barker) because I am Upper Class".

Middle-Class Ronnie Barker explains: "I look up to him because he is upper class but I look down on him because he is lower class."

Ronnie Corbett explains: "I know my place. ... I look up to them both — but I don't look up to him as much as I look up to him. 'Cos he has innate breeding."

John Cleese replies; "I have innate breeding...but I have not got any money."

So the sketch continues — it is a reminder of how everyone looks down on someone else, no matter what his or her background or class.

If you've ever seen the 1991 film the Commitments, or read the novel on which it is based by Roddy Doyle, you may well remember the scene where Jimmy Rabbitte: the working class hero of the whole thing and leader of the wanna-be band, tries to put into some kind of context their social standing as youngsters from the Northside of Dublin.

Without quoting him word for word and being racially offensive, he basically says that the Irish are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to Europe, Dubliners are the bottom of the pile when it comes to Ireland and that Northside Dubliners are the bottom of the pile when it comes to those in Dublin.

In other words you need to know your place and who you are.

There is, whether it be official or unofficial, a pecking order of where you stand in society and even within groups.

As human beings we seem to have an inbuilt need and desire to see ourselves as being above someone else and to have a sense of superiority over others, whether that be between countries and nationalities, class or ethnic mix, education, accent and pronunciation, dress style and even it has to be said, denominations and churchmanship!

At theological training college we wrote a take on that very same sketch using the images of the very high church leader who reveled in the glory of plain song, incense and the book of common prayer; the Methodist minister who reveled in the mighty hymn writing of the Wesleys, and the tradition of faith and social action and lastly the evangelical house church pastor who had Songs of Fellowship!

In my first appointment in Seascale, west Cumbria, the village always had a united Nativity service.

The clothes and props were stored at the Roman Catholic Church and each year when the children from the three churches met to rehearse and to be given their costumes, it was always the Roman Catholic children who played the part of the Holy Family and the children from St. Cuthbert's, the Anglican church, who were always the kings, those visitors from the East.

As for the children from Seascale Methodist Church, well they were always the smelly shepherds!

Everyone looked down on and despised Zacchaeus physically, because he was of short stature, but also because of his position and profession.

Zacchaeus worked for the enemy, he had sold out to the occupying forces. He might have money, but he probably didn't have any friends — he would have been despised by the Romans too, who simply used him as their agent, their stooge, tool and fall guy.

Yet his story as revealed to us in Luke's Gospel, (the alternative set lectionary Gospel lesson for the day) is interesting — because for all of his life, Zacchaeus was used to being looked down on.

Long before he became a traitor, a quisling if the eyes of his fellow Jews, he would have been looked down on by all those who were taller, bigger and physically larger than him.

It would have seemed to Zacchaeus that life was one long round of being looked down upon and being ridiculed, teased and despised — but then as Luke reminds us, something happened.

News was that Jesus was coming to town — Zacchaeus so wanted to see this enigma, this charismatic preacher that so many had already identified as being the Messiah, the one long promised.

He, Zacchaeus, simply had to see him — but because of the crowds, he couldn't get close, he couldn't see — and being who he was, nobody would let him get to the front for a better view.

So he climbed up the tree. Then it happened! Jesus stopped right below where he was and looked up at him.

For the first time for so very long, if not for the first time ever, the first time in his life — there was someone looking up at him and not looking down.

That moment is so important and has enormous and significant symbolism and truth.

For the first time ever, Zacchaeus was being treated as an equal — he was on the same level as everyone else — in the eyes of Jesus and therefore, by association, God — he was of the same worth and value, significance and importance as everyone else.

At that moment is was not a case of 'Zacchaeus', the name being spat out in anger and resentment, it was not a case of 'Zacchaeus' the name being uttered with a hint of pity, mockery or derision.

It was 'Zacchaeus' as in being called by his name. 'Zacchaeus' a child of God.

As a nation we should hang our heads with shame as we recognize that politically, socially and economically, we live in a time when it seems to be increasingly acceptable to give the 'Zacchaeus treatment' to others.

To all those who, for whatever reason are seen to be at the bottom of the pile, who are treated with contempt, who are looked down on and generally ignored, and terms like 'Chav' and 'Pikey' and other racially offensive terms are bandied about as if somehow the frequency of their use makes it acceptable.

This is not the way of God, it is not the way of our faith, it is not the example set by Jesus, who under the shade of a tree, called Zacchaeus down from his hiding place and allowed him to take his rightful place.

That encounter that began with Jesus looking up at Zacchaeus as he sat in the tree, was one that totally changed the tax collector and enabled him to be redeemed and transformed.

In the baptismal service that I have been using since coming into Circuit (which I feel is far more accessible and in touch than that within the MWB — although perhaps that makes me some kind of heretic, there is a statement which says;
"I declare God's love for (name of child). He/she belongs to God, and holds the dignity and worth of his son, which the world cannot give or take away."

An important truth to publically proclaim through word and deed, and one which will be sacramentally portrayed in broken bread and shared wine later on Holy Communion.

In Galatians 3 we are reminded that there is "neither Jew nor Greek, free or slave, male or female — that we are all one in Christ Jesus" — All are on a level; all are saved in the same way; all are entitled to the same privileges. There is no favoritism on account of birth, beauty, or blood.
Paul means to teach that nobody has any preference or advantage in the kingdom of God because they are rich, or because of elevated rank; no one is under any disadvantage because they are poor, or a slave.

All at the foot of the cross are sinners; at the communion table all are saved by the same grace; and all who enter into heaven, will enter clothed in the same robes of salvation.

I wonder, as this familiar story of the despised tax collector confronts us once more, how does the word of God (through him who is the living word) challenge us in our perceptions and attitudes and who is that we look down on?

We must be careful of judging or dismissing others, of taking the moral high ground of looking down on those we feel are undeserving, those who are perceived as the Zacchaeus' of this world.

To those who for whatever reason feel or struggle with a sense of being unworthy, of not being good enough, of not somehow really fitting in and being welcome, the message of this encounter, of Jesus looking up at Zacchaues, is one that says, Hold your head high........ for you are a daughter, you are a son of God — loved and special, made in His image!

Amen.

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