I saw a funny status update today from my friend Susan: “I woke up tired this morning. Can’t imagine waking up tired… and then realizing, ‘Whoa! I’m the Pope!’ My day suddenly looks less overwhelming.” That was followed in my Facebook news feed by a report from The Onion that Pope Francis I had resigned, citing the hardships and scandals that occurred during his seven-hour papacy. When you’re the Pope, I guess you have to get used to being the butt of some jokes. Welcome to the punch line, Jorge.
Like most of the world, I watched with anticipation yesterday as the white smoke billowed from the Vatican. That may seem strange, since I’m not a Catholic nor have any plans to convert. Maybe it was my Catholic baptism when I was an infant coming to life. More likely, I wanted to see if the Catholic church was going to follow the trajectory of the more conservative Benedict or forge a new direction with a more reform-minded Pope. I also wanted to see what the new Pope’s name would be. Anyone else out there hear the name “Francis” and go immediately to Sgt. Hulka from “Stripes”? “Lighten up, Francis.”
I was watching the coverage online while doing some reading for Sunday’s sermon, about the crowds crying “Crucify him!” when Pilate offers to release Jesus. The comparisons were eerie. Two crowds gather in the main square of their city. Both are abuzz, eager with anticipation of the day’s events. Their eyes are locked on a balcony, from which will emerge their leader to make a pronouncement. People are nervous and excited on this historic day as they await a pronouncement that will change history.
Of course, that’s where the similarities end. One crowd was jubilant, peaceful, united by their faith as they cried for “Il Papa.” The other crowd – more like a mob – was restless, agitated, blood-thirsty in their cries of “Crucify him!” At least Jesus knew what was coming. The poor Pope has no idea what to expect as he dons the papal regalia. “Whoa! I’m the Pope!”
While pastors may not be able to relate to the magnitude of the Pope’s responsibilities, we can relate to the weighty symbolism of them. We are also called to be God’s co-laborers, to lead our flocks (whether there are 20 people or a billion) on their faith journeys, to be counselors and confidantes and commanding public speakers and deep theological thinkers and positive public personas and humble servants. I wonder if, when someone gets locked out of the Vatican, they call the Pope to come open the doors for them?
I’m sure it’s not easy being the Pope. It’s not always a picnic being a pastor, either. But one thing we share, whether male or female, Catholic or Protestant, Argentinian or Lexingtonian: we have been called, by golly. We have been called to this impossible job of representing God to a hurting, hurtful world that will call for our adoration and our crucifixion, sometimes during the same board meeting. We are called. We don’t always like, sometimes we don’t even want it, we may try to minimize it or run from it, but we are called.
I hope the new Pope is successful. Actually, no I don’t, because who knows what “successful” means when it comes to ministry. I hope the new Pope is faithful. That’s better. Faithful to his understanding of God’s call. Faithful to himself. Faithful to God. In the end, no matter how many people call for his crucifixion, that will be good enough. And I hope, when the demands of the job get too stressful and he’s one church potluck or finance meeting from the loony bin, he is able to breathe and recognize that the faith of his flock doesn’t rest on his shoulders. That’s a heavy burden to bear, especially during Lent. It helps to lighten up every once in awhile.