My kids have sometimes remarked at the ease with which total strangers will open up to me about all their problems. At a barbershop, in an airport, at a fast food restaurant, almost anywhere it would seem. I have long contended that people were speaking to “the shirt”. When I wear the cleric (the black shirt with the white tab in the collar), people have certain expectations about what that means. First, it means that the shirt will listen.
This past Thursday, I went to visit a member at a hospital. On an elevator, after that visit, a man asked me to go visit his daughter. She’d just had a tumor removed from her spine. I went and shared a short time with a groggy but happy young woman (the tumor was not cancerous). Before returning to the office, I stopped at a restaurant for lunch and while at my table, had three separate people come to speak to me at my table, one a congregational member, and two others people who felt the need to speak to the “priest” who was there. (Yup....I was wearing the shirt....)
While it is true that people will open up to the shirt, with an expectation of being heard, it is also true to say, that if the shirt makes suggestions, recommendations or prescriptions that involve transformation of the lives of the individuals, there is resistance and even rejection. Suggestions that are offered regarding the need for systemic transformation, or real change; such things from the shirt, are very often met with disappointment and rejection. People don’t really want to be transformed, they simply want their situations to be fixed, and refusing to recognize the inadequacy of their self-perceptions. It can be very frustrating for the shirt if the solutions are somewhat evident.
On Passion Sunday we will seek to understand the fickle crowd that first, wants to be heard, but not really changed, no matter how difficult the situation. And even more remarkably, Jesus’ profound compassion in the face of that paradox...wanting to be heard, but refusing to change...