His Genius Move

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Curiosity is a natural instinctive desire to explore, discover, and understand. In its most basic form, it is a measurable sign of intellectual activity, that something might be going on upstairs. Curiosity is displayed in everyday animal and human behavior, especially in young animals and young people. For instance, a lot of uploaded amateur videos on the internet are just of cats and their escapades. Now I am not a cat person. Allergies. But I can appreciate their positive impact on people’s lives, especially when they make us laugh. I’m sure they’re not trying to be funny on purpose. We just can’t tell whether or not they truly have a sense of humor. But that’s probably because they only operate on one plane—the reality they perceive, the here and now, but really only from their point of view. And we might wonder what it’s like exactly to see the world from their point of view. How do we tell whether or not cats are capable of nurturing an active imagination? It’s not like they write fiction or history. As far as we can tell, they don’t create art. Their singing is atrocious. But, I am not a cat. I have no idea what cats sing about. You can’t tell a cat to do anything. And they like to sit in boxes. And they are terrified of zucchini. I don’t know why. But mostly, they just live in the moment.

And now that we have the technology to record cat antics on video, some people’s lives are fuller. Viewing cat videos can keep some people from getting into trouble. And it raises our serotonin levels. And like potato chips, you can’t have just one. Now I have not done any actual research on this topic. I believe I met my lifetime quota of cat videos some time back. But it’s still quite entertaining. Cats interacting with technology. I enjoyed the one of a cat reaching out to the TV to catch a fish that exited the screen, and the one where a cat is riding a Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner making its rounds. Cats interacting with children. Cats interacting with dogs and vegetables. Cats interacting with other cats. I think we’ve exhausted the subject. Let’s move on.

We know curiosity plays a vital role in the lives of children and teenagers. That curiosity can lead to experience and knowledge, understanding, and finally wisdom. But we can nurture a healthy curiosity all our lives. Have you seen that video of an older couple trying to figure out the videochat function on their smartphone? I admire their courage in exploring the unfamiliar. It’s a way people keep in touch with children and grandchildren. And exploring new things will keep you young or give you gray.

And it seems we will never run out of things to explore and discover. Science and technology aren’t slowing down. The arts, music, and fashion, are always breaking new ground. Understanding human behavior is an enduring field of study while the human brain remains a vast universe filled with mystery and wonder. And deep within the human spirit is a fundamental yearning for meaning and purpose. We ask questions that no one can answer to our satisfaction. We cry out into the darkness, searching for clues, grasping for evidence, anything to quench an insatiable thirst that philosophers and theologians seem forever struggling to soothe. It can be frustrating. But it can also be rewarding, especially when you finally discover what you’re looking for.

Zacchaeus was curious to see Jesus. In an age before print media and television and the internet, people had to employ their senses directly in real time and unaided by technology to satisfy their natural curiosity about unfamiliar things and whoever the local celebrity was everyone was talking about. With a large crowd in tow, Jesus would be passing through town. It seemed like a chance encounter from Zacchaeus’ point of view, but it brought about some truly transforming consequences. We might think Jesus planned it all in advance. But simple curiosity made Zacchaeus climb a tree if only, he must have thought, to get a better view. There were likely other people in other trees. It wasn’t a genius move. But Jesus stopped under Zacchaeus’ tree, to his and everyone’s surprise. Despite intending to just pass through town, Jesus nonetheless invited himself to dinner at the man’s house, and was met with general disapproval. But like the good shepherd bringing home the lost sheep on his shoulders, Jesus rejoiced to fulfill his purpose, which ultimately was about seeking and saving what was lost.

All through his ministry, Jesus never tired of inviting people to know the Father and to find joy and fulfillment in God’s friendship and mercy. It was his one mission for which he offered his very self, embracing his passion and death, to restore humanity to friendship with God and with one another. It is the one mission that he entrusted to his church, and by which every move, every initiative, every venture must be guided and measured. God desires that like Jesus, we assist in seeking and saving what was lost.

In the church’s checkered history, many peoples and nations have come to faith under coercion and threat of violence. It may have been effective for a time, but Jesus teaches us that the choice for faith and God must be made in freedom. St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith.” Faith is first of all God’s unmerited gift, a summons to friendship and life with him. But it is also the free response we give to that initial summons. First, God invites. Curiosity might draw us to ask questions and explore. But our personal evaluation of that discovery becomes the impetus for a free response. And if we are to assist in the mission of Jesus, to seek and save what was lost, we as church and individually as his disciples need to find and implement new ways to give authentic witness to the world why we choose to believe, that we find true joy and personal fulfillment in faith, that we recognize a greater truth beyond ourselves, the One who bestows on us everlasting life.

If God desires that we come to know him, to love him, and to share his very life, why do some people deliberately place obstacles in God’s way, driving others from him, preventing reconciliation with him, keeping them in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief? Shouldn’t we instead be eager to bring people to him, to discover the joy and wonder we have come to know? But we are not philosophers or theologians. We would not know how to explain the mysteries and wonders of God, probably confusing things more. Instead, we join in Jesus’ mission to seek and save what was lost by being present to others in a loving way, extending support, encouragement, sympathy and friendship. We also shouldn’t invite ourselves to dinner at someone else’s expense. Jesus got away with it. He was a celebrity. Instead we might find ways to invite people to come down from rather than driving them up a tree. Curiosity sent Zacchaeus up a tree. Jesus’ offer of mercy brought him down. That was Jesus’ genius move. It should really be ours, too.

Rolo B Castillo © 2019