Picture this: It’s February 1964. Traffic in Mid-town Manhattan is an epic nightmare. Police are manning the barricades. And an army of teenagers sweeps right past them to storm the Plaza Hotel. The Beatles have come to town and Manhattan has gone wild. Later, to only muted contradiction, John Lennon outrageously proclaims: “We’re more popular than Jesus.”
Poor John, for such a hip guy, he didn’t get it. Jesus was never about popularity. He did not come to perform. He came to serve and to save. He doesn’t want fans; he wants disciples. He doesn’t give autographs; he gives eternal life.
This week’s gospel has Jesus coping with a sudden surge of adulation. At the moment, he’s the hottest ticket in Galilee. And lots of folks are swept up by the buzz that surrounds this new star. But Jesus is no self-centered Phenom. Mark tells us Jesus: Saw a great crowd. But Jesus really does not see people as a crowd. He sees every one of us as an individual, precious child of the Father… a cherished sister or brother to the Son.
In Christ’s eyes, the people were not there to feed his ego. He was there to feed their souls. He had compassion for people. He ministered to them. He taught them. He cured them. The Shepherd knew his and they knew him. As our evangelical brethren would say: Jesus Christ was their personal Savior.
How do we relate to Jesus? Is he our intimate life companion, our confidante, our trusted advisor in matters big and small? Or is he a distant abstraction, best addressed on holidays in mumbled communal prayer? Is Christ a traditional family totem or is he a real guiding presence in our lives? Do we pray rarely and mindlessly in crowds? Or do we engage in an ongoing dialogue, leaning on the Lord, praising him, thanking him?
In “The Madness of Crowds”, a seminal work on the dynamics of financial bubbles, Charles McKay observed that people can quickly: “Go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly and one by one.” Crowds are fickle creatures. One day they are showering Christ’s triumphal entrance with palms. And the next they are howling for his blood. Jesus is obviously not a crowd pleaser. His way is narrow and difficult. It is not the way of the world. Don’t look for him among the faddish “beautiful people.” Look for him among the poor, the rejected, the struggling, the broken. In troubles, look for him in the depths of your soul.
He’s there… loving you, waiting for you to call. That’s because our faith has staying power beyond any human institution. Once Christ claims us for his own, he abides in us, a prayer away. Unlike rock-stars, Jesus is not the flavor-of-the-month. Only four months after the Beatles stormed New York, The Rolling Stones blew into town. They didn’t have quite the same impact. But they were climbing the charts. In time John Lennon would be happy to be as popular as Mick Jagger. Jesus doesn’t keep score that way. He’s not into charts. He would have gone to the cross if you were the only one to be saved.
Also prominent in this gospel is a brief account of Christ’s ongoing healing ministry. His miracles of individual physical cures are a metaphor for his redemptive love for each of us who place faith in him. His healings transcends specific acts of compassion. They are practical life lessons instructing us on how to act in the face of suffering… always eager to help, not just materially but as a channel of Christ’s healing love for all in physical and emotional pain.
It is a modern conceit that we are the original hyper-busy, multi-takers. Yet the opening verses of this gospels show that this is an experience we share with the Apostles. Christ’s direction to them applies to us too: Rest a while. Don’t get isolated. Reconnect. Sit together. Eat together. Ask for help. Share your burdens. Don’t be too busy to listen and to help.
How Jesus handles popularity and peer pressure is a recurring theme in this gospel. We all feel the tug to go along and to get along. But your immortal soul is not a herd animal. We are each the individual beloved of God. We will not stand before his throne for a class action judgment.
Jesus knows and loves every face in the crowd. He has counted every hair on your head. Know him. Love him. He is not a distant star. He’s more than your biggest fan. He is your God and Savior. Through grace he permeates every fiber of your being. He is constantly calling you. Call him back. No screeners, no agents, no answering service… the Superstar is waiting on your call.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.