I can be a real jerk sometimes. Arrogant. Proud. Judgmental. That probably doesn’t shock you. Case in point, I found myself looking around Mass yesterday thinking snidely that the crowds were much larger on Palm Sunday than typical Sundays. I wondered if it was because the Church was giving something away, the palm being the equivalent of the big foam finger at a baseball game to some. A memento.
And then I scolded myself for thinking such things during Mass. I’ve always fought the urge to see things in terms on black and white.
I used to be even worse. When I was a child even casual injustices and minor slights were met with storms of outrage. I couldn’t stand any breach of my own standards of right and wrong whether it involved me or not. Any perceived injustice became my responsibility to right. Sadly, this probably made me quite a pain to be around, if not an embarrassment.
Even people I loved weren’t spared my shining sword of justice. When I witnessed some slight by them I no longer saw them as the person who’d performed hundreds of kindnesses, they were simply the author of that one misdeed.
But as I’ve grown older I find that I can better stomach all sorts and manner of injustice in the course of a day. I tell myself that I’ve learned to prioritize and not get swept into every battle. While the transformation has likely had the sad effect of accustoming myself to injustice it has also had a corollary effect. I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older beauty overwhelms me completely. The slightest act of kindness causes me to stop and marvel. I find myself awed by goodness.
I used to know a man with a very short temper and I couldn’t stand the way he spoke to his wife. That’s who he was to me. He was the guy who was curt with his wife. One day while reporting a story for the local newspaper I saw him at an assisted living facility visiting his mother. After he fed his mother he stopped in to see a number of other elderly people as well who smiled as he walked into their rooms. He knew them well and asked if he could do anything for them. Some just wanted to talk. Some asked him to shift their pillows. I was awestruck. Amazed. And I was forced to admit that people aren’t readily classifiable by me. He was not just the man who could be short with his wife but the man who seemed infinitely patient with the elderly and sick. He was both.
I was thinking about this because this Sunday is Palm Sunday and I know that about 2,000 years ago the hands which waved the palm before Christ were the same hands responsible for driving the nails into our Savior’s hands. The mouths that cheered and heralded His entrance just days later called out “Crucify him.” And while that’s a sad and frightening thought it’s also a hopeful one because Christ saw us for who we were and allowed Himself to die on the cross for us.
And while I too profess my love for my Savior I will just as often (if not more) drive the nails into His hand. We struggle to be the kind of people who straighten pillows. We struggle to be the people who wave the palm. We struggle to be the ones who profess Christ’s love. But we are not always the best version of ourselves. We are all complex. We are all palm wavers and nail drivers.