Fickle. That’s the word often used to describe the crowds of Jerusalem who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David, and then less than a week later cried to Pontius Pilate with shouts for his crucifixion. We want to believe that we are more sophisticated, less pliable, less fickle. We all know, deep down, however, that the mob is every bit as fickle today.
Throughout the past week, the gospels have featured the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees, and I’ve had to wonder whether I would have committed myself had I been a first century Jew. Clearly, Jesus of Nazareth was claiming an authority and a relationship with God that none had ever laid claim to before. I would have had some trouble accepting that.
Yet the man who was making these claims also performed incredible signs. He cured the blind, made the lame walk, healed lepers, fed the multitudes. His gospel was not radically different from that of the prophets, but he claimed to be the fulfillment of the law. All the rules that Moses had given were being turned upside down, and the priests and the Pharisees opposed him. Once Jesus raised a man from the dead, calling Lazarus out from the tomb after four days, the priests decided that this Jesus had to be put to death! What greater sign could a man give? I want to believe that if I hadn’t committed before then, the raising of Lazarus would have made me a believer.
I shared my thoughts with a friend this weekend, and he assured me that the fact that I am a believing Christian today means that I would have believed if I had been a first century Jew in Jerusalem. Maybe. Maybe I would have been one of those laying palm branches in front of him as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. But would I have been one of the fickle ones?
How do I put these reflections to use today? I tend to be skeptical of religious fads. I turn to the Church, secure in the knowledge that the Church is the Body of Christ and that the Pope and the bishops in union with him enjoy a charism of infallibility when teaching on faith and morals. Public revelation, the Church teaches us, is complete. Everything that we need has been given to us. So, when somebody comes along with a new teaching, I weigh is against everything that has come before. Scripture alone can be misinterpreted, so I look to the two thousand years of Tradition that the authority of the Church (the pillar and bulwark of truth) gives.
The biggest difference between a first century Jew and the modern Catholic is the expectation of the messiah. For the Jew, the messiah was yet to come and was to be looked for; for the Catholic, the messiah came two thousand years ago, comes everyday in the Eucharist, and will come again in glory. When Christ comes again, in his glory, he will be impossible to miss. He could come any day, and there is a way in which he does come every day in all those who I meet. Mother Theresa saw Jesus in every suffering soul, and Jesus himself said that whenever we clothe the naked, feed the poor, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, or visit the imprisoned, we do it to him.
Still, I have to worry that I might be fickle. And even if I am not, those around me are. What will I do if all around me, people are shouting for crucifixion? Daily we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Another translation reads, “Put us not to the test.” Peter said that he would never deny Christ. Am I any stronger than he? Are any of us so confident as to say that we will succeed where Peter failed?