Anyone who tries to rely on the opinion of the public is in for a very bumpy ride. As we grow, we are taught to please others. It is the way, we are told, to get ahead in the world. In addition, we are supposed to gage our own view of ourselves according to what others think of us. These viewpoints cause a great deal of anxiety as we try to assess whom we are based on the shifting sands of other’s ideas and perceptions of what we are like (both in truth and in error).
A classic example of the fickleness of the public is the two pictures in the Gospel readings of Palm Sunday. We begin with the ecstatic reception of Christ by the crowd in Jerusalem. They tear branches off the trees to put them in front of the donkey that Jesus is riding. They spread their clothing also over His pathway. The crowd is in a kind of hysteria at the presence of the new Messiah. The reaction was so extreme that it terrified the establishment, both secular and religious!
But later that week, it was a very different public reaction.
The tide had turned in public opinion with this preacher from Nazareth. The rumors must have grown to a crescendo regarding his radical closeness to God whom He sometimes called “Abba”, that is, “Dad”. In addition, stories were spreading about his ‘breaking’ the rules of the Sabbath. They must have thought that this was what He was teaching! It did not matter that He had really said that anyone who teaches that the smallest part of the letter could be ignored in the Torah and its centuries old tradition was to be considered the least in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:19). But that was not part of the ‘narrative’ that his enemies were spreading.
Then there was what He said about the Temple. They spread the ‘fake news’ that He wanted to destroy the Temple. He even was reported to have said that He could build a better one in three days! Utter madness, considering it had taken 46 years to build it up to then (John 2:20)! But they ignored the Truth.
Thus, they conspired against Him and had Him arrested in darkness; and conducted a ‘religious trial’ when the Law forbade it—in the middle of the night.
The crowd that was delirious with joy at His entrance into Jerusalem became the bloodthirsty mob calling for Him to be handed over to the pagans and to die an especially painful and shameful death. And, of course, this is probably what the Romans wanted all along: to shut up this troublemaker who called Himself a king.
This led, of course, to what is now lovingly called Good Friday. Everyone wanted this thing finished before the Holiday of Passover. One can only imagine how loud the shouts were. Perhaps they were even louder than the Hosannas at His entry into Jerusalem.
And, so, goes the fickleness of public opinion. One day you are sky high, and the next you could be an inconvenience that needs to go.
This arbitrariness is noteworthy in its own way. Yet, to think that most of us even today hunger and thirst, not for holiness or justice or righteousness, but for the admiration of individuals we value and for the approval of the world, even though our Lord was rejected. Even though the massive ‘OK’ from the crowd was so fragile and undependable. Even though the Lord warned: “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
This is why the Saints practiced what is known as “Detachment”. This means that we should try to avoid the rat race of pleasing everyone and trying to earn the esteem of men. St. Ignatius called it “Holy Indifference”. They taught that, except for the desire for God and the accomplishment of His holy will, all other wants, desires and cravings should be held at a suspicious distance. They are simply not reliable and can even lead us to disaster if their fulfillment becomes the be-all and end-all of our future and of our goals.
The Saints echo the words of Jesus: “But seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33). To seek after all the little things and ignore the mammoth central reality of God is the height of stupidity.
Remember Jesus’ words to Martha who was worried about all the details of hospitality while her dear sister, Mary, was listening to the saving words of the Lord: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; [only] one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41b-42).
The fickleness of others’ opinions can make us so exhausted in the seeking. How much saner and lovelier to listen first and foremost to the Lord Who loves us, and Whose opinion never changes!