I made a spectacle of myself last evening.
Well, all day yesterday actually…but it was the evening shift that I found most discomfiting.
It all started when I pulled on one of my favorite Saturday “slumming” shirts: a comfortable T that bears what I consider to be a rather clever legend.
The small print is the key here. It reads “width of the“…
…a footnote that significantly diminishes the extent of the accomplishment highlighted in the large type. It can take months to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. The width? I managed the feat, not once but three times, in about 15 seconds on a recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.
The t-shirt almost always attracts comments, and yesterday was no exception. Members of my Saturday morning prayer group…and assorted other parishioners…knew me well enough to express a sort of astonished admiration (until I encouraged them to look a little closer, of course).
All in good fun.
But when Gerri and I went to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, I started hearing from perfect strangers — as first, one of the waiters…then, one of the other patrons…stepped up to trade stories with someone they presumed to be a fellow sojourner. The restaurant’s dim lighting made the small print tough to read, I guess…so I spent a lot of time backpedaling — more time, in fact, than I’d actually spent on the Trail.
After dinner, we zipped into the grocery store to pick up a few items…and it was more of the same: perfect strangers, striking up conversations…eliciting still more semi-embarrassed deflections on my end.
So I’ve decided I’m going to think twice before wearing this particular T-shirt in public again. When I’ve worn it in the past, it’s been with the intent of a gentle self-mockery. But yesterday’s encounters showed me that different interpretations of the t-shirt’s message are possible, even likely. It can come off as a bit smug — an attempt to puncture someone else’s boast.
Dangerous territory, boasting.
Jesus tries to teach his apostles as much in the gospel reading we hear at Mass today.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
All along my life’s journey, I’ve discovered that this is a tough lesson, this boast-busting. I resist the notion that the ego must die, in order for Christ to live most fully in me.
And yet, there it is: Christ calls me to be child-like, not childish. To embrace insignificance.
The journey continues, I suppose — step by step, along a trail that cannot be conquered in an instant.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.