The words, hoi polloi (hoy palloy), are a transliteration of a Greek term that refers to the “common people.” Literally, the phrase means “the many.” It points to the masses or the majority of people who are not rich and famous.
Over the years, it has come to be used as a somewhat derisive term. Elitists like to use it to separate themselves from “ordinary” people. Other phrases have been used as well—phrases such as “the unwashed masses” and “the riff-raff.” The hoi polloi, of course, have countered with equally demeaning terms for the elitists such as “hoity-toity.” We just love to separate ourselves, don’t we?
“A popular sport…”
This separation seems to be a popular sport among people in our society. From lofty politicians down to the man on the street, folks have a tendency to hang out with those who bear the greatest resemblance to themselves. This behavior has come to be expected and even normal. It has become so commonplace that it is prevalent in the church as well.
This is extremely curious when we consider the actions of Jesus. Think of who he is—Savior God, Creator of the world, owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, Master of everything. If there was ever an elite person, it was Jesus. And yet, with whom did he hang out? The hoi polloi… If he was here today, there are many Christians who wouldn’t hang out with him because of the company he would inevitably keep. They would find it (shall we say) less than tasteful. Can we say, “Pharisaical?”
Attend almost any Sunday service in America. What you will often find are a group of people who are less about following Jesus than they are about being “birds of a feather” flocking together. It’s about as un-Jesus-like as you can get. Still, we do it without a thought.
“I didn’t realize you were rich.”
I remember years ago, a friend of mine joined a particular denominational church. When his father found out, his statement to his son was, “I didn’t realize you were rich.” We all have our perceptions, and we often hold to them without variance—right or wrong.
I’m under no grand illusion that writing this little blog is going to change our gathering habits. We should at least think about it, however. A brown man in a tux should be able to sit next to a yellow woman in cut-offs. A white ditch digger should be able to sit next to a red salesperson. In true worship, these differences should not be mutually exclusive. The black preacher should not be surrounded by faces that only resemble his own.
I know this all sounds extremely idealistic. But if the hoi oligoi (the few) cannot be part of the hoi polloi, we are little better than the American Nazi’s and the Anti-Fa’s of this world. If we fly under the banner of Christ, maybe we should associate with the rest of his people. That whole “love-one-another” thing is pretty clear.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]