Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Price of Admission

I knew Disney World would be crowded. It was spring break after one of the coldest winters most of the country could remember. I’d hoped the downturn in the economy would keep a few folks home, but no such luck. The economy at Disney World appeared to be flourishing. After nine years away the theme park hadn’t changed much, but the number of visitors had increased significantly. Disney will sell you a ticket even if there isn’t an inch of space for you to stand on, but the staff will pleasantly direct your attention to something else when you complain - Disney magic at its finest.

As I watched parents with very young children wait two and a half hours in the line for the newest attraction, I saw grim determination on their faces. There is a psychology at work when seeking something that is coveted by others, where the price of admission is steep and the demand is near frenzied. The park was so crowded that many rides had up to two hour waits. People in line were mostly patient and if you had the energy to spark a conversation, friendly. Once committed to the line having fun was no longer the point. Nothing that lasts three minutes could be worth a two hour wait. No, these folks were there because they had paid the price in advance. Once they paid, they were going to get their monies worth – memories, thrills, maybe a bit of that Disney magic? It’s hard to say, but it was certainly food for thought.

Disney does many things extremely well, which explains the appeal. The nightly “Fantasmic” show at the Hollywood Studios was worth staying to close the park down at 11:00. We got to the early show an hour before it started and it was already full. By our unofficial bleacher count, the outdoor auditorium holds at least 5,000 people sitting and has room for 1,000 or so more standing. So we made due riding the Tower of Terror and went back to the late show, which was full, but no one had to stand. If you like fireworks, Disney nostalgia and animation broadcast on illuminated fountains, you’ll like this show.

5000 is a lot of people. As I looked around the packed auditorium, I tried to imagine what Jesus beheld as  5000 families followed him late one day. They came seeking healing. They didn’t need tickets - admission was free. It takes a huge space to hold that many people. I wonder if once they all sat down they could hear him; he was one man speaking with no microphone. And if they couldn’t hear, and couldn’t see any place to get food or drink, why did they stay?

“Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." But Jesus said to them, "They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!" They said to Him, "We have here only five loaves and two fish." And He said, "Bring them here to Me." 

Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.” Matt 14:13-21

This process had to take some time: there were only twelve disciples distributing food. Have you ever tried to get the lemon-aide guy to come your way at a game? Jesus must’ve had something these people really wanted. They were willing to wait and they trusted their needs would be met. I wondered as I watched the parents gut through the lines at Disney World holding exhausted toddlers and pushing strollers packed to the brim with souvenirs, how much of a line Jesus would draw if he showed up today. It wouldn’t be glitzy and I doubt there would be much of a light show. Would we be willing to shell out the price of a ticket, or race over to get a fast pass?

Lent is drawing to a close. Our time of liturgical waiting is almost finished. Walt Disney, with all his insight into our human need to believe in magic and happy endings, can’t hold a candle to the glory of Easter morning. Will we seek it out with grim determination, or wait patiently in the assurance that ultimately our needs will be met? Would we covet a few minutes with Jesus even if the admission was free? We would covet it if no one else seemed to want it, if we were the only ones in line?

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