Ah, fame. Even fifteen minutes of it can be a double-edged sword.
The first 16 days of this journey have been a whirlwind of emotion — from the first glimpse into truly demoralizing social stigma to the debilitating nature of fear to the elation of praise and the satisfaction of appreciation. It has been hard to keep my head on straight. I had no idea what to expect when I began this journey on March 5th. How would people react? Where would it take me? But I never imagined that the word would spread so far and wide and that 95% of the responses would be overly positive. I mean, here I am, truly trying to experience a humbling experience and build solidarity with those who suffer, and I am hearing from people all over the country that they have seen me on the news and admire what I am doing. Double-edged indeed.
One man in the grocery store stopped me saying, “You’re that lawyer guy, aren’t you?” “Yes, how did you know?” I replied. Haha. “So are you getting the attention you wanted from all this?” he responded. “Um, well, yeah, I guess so…” I was tongue-tied and taken aback. This was the first encounter with one a bit more cynical about my efforts. Even though I had been struggling with the attention, trying to use it all to point to the stories that really matter and this blog through which I am trying to shed light on the realities of a failed system and a failure of our collective spirit of forgiveness and mercy, I was still not entirely ready to answer this direct question. “Well, I really hope it isn’t all attention just about me. I want it to point to the people’s stories who truly suffer under a broken system…” I am sure I didn’t say it this way to this man, but I sure hope I can get this point across somehow, some way.
And then I began to think about Jesus. Jesus burst onto the scene and almost immediately began to grow in fame — the praise and admiration for the works he was doing spread far and wide. Let me set this straight before I go any further — I AM NOT JESUS. Ha. But seriously, I don’t mean to compare myself and my situation to his in any way that suggests some sort of messianic complex I am struggling with. What I do want to say, though, is that my experience has opened my eyes a bit more to the struggles Jesus may have gone through as the thousands flocked to him for what he could do for them. Jesus healed, but then he told people to keep silent. Don’t tell anyone about what has been done for you. Keep it a secret.
Some theories suggest that this “messianic secret”, as some call it, was to make sure and point people to the kingdom of God that was at hand. Others offer that maybe Jesus did not want to be confused with a political messiah, one that will save the people of Israel from political oppression under Rome. Still, maybe it was a sort of narrative irony to demonstrate that the message of Jesus could not be kept from exploding. I can see a bit of truth in all of these attempts to understand and explain these secretive commands of Jesus.
But I now see another way to understand Jesus’s attempts to dissuade the fame and glory of praise and admiration growing like wildfire. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Perhaps then Jesus desired to truly experience the suffering of God’s beloved creations. What it felt like to be human, to be oppressed, to struggle with faith and doubt, with religious and social and political powers that dehumanized, to truly be humbled as a man, to be not just among the poor but to be poor. Jesus longed for solidarity with those he loved. And the fame was likely to prevent solidarity and hinder Jesus’s hopes to experience the depths of humanity’s suffering, all the while pointing to a greater story than his own, a story of the inbreaking reign of Love and Hope, Mercy and Compassion.
So please help spread the story about my Lenten journey in the uniform of the imprisoned. But allow for me to experience solidarity with those who truly suffer, in what small ways I can, by keeping this from being my story, all about what I am doing or who I am. Instead, please point to the lives of those oppressed by a broken system, suffering demoralizing stigmas and dehumanizing discrimination. Share their stories. If we could just point the way, to a new way of life, to Grace and Mercy, to the power of Love, maybe our fame could be worthwhile and still allow for us to maintain our necessary solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Maybe this is an open secret that we all need to know. Jesus longs for solidarity with all of God’s suffering children. And following this Jesus, servant to all, shall lead us together into the eternal reign of God, both now and forever.