Mission Impossible: Following the Crowd and Jesus
The Palm Sunday liturgy has two parts: Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and the Passion account. The principal supporting actors to Jesus are the crowds. Both crowds are made up of large numbers of normal town folk, who, when shouting and acting as one, have tremendous political power.
At Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, seated humbly on a donkey rather than a war horse, he is enthusiastically welcomed by the crowd. They wave olive branches and palms and shout messianic titles. Everything they do underlines the importance of this one’s coming to Jerusalem. The crowd has a clear sense that this Jesus plays a crucial role in their salvation. Things couldn’t be better.
Less than a week later, everything changes. The crowd seeing the opposition of their leaders to Jesus, change their tune dramatically. The shouts of “Hosanna” change to “Crucify him!”
Scholars have put forth many theories to help explain the change. The most prominent theories focus on disappointment. The crowd thought that Jesus would exercise a power to overthrow the corrupt leadership that ruled them and lead them against their enemies, but when it seemed that Jesus would not use his power in this way, they jumped from the “ship of hope,” so to speak, to float down stream in their pragmatic need to “get along” with the powers that be.
Fundamental to this crowd behavior is that people in crowds always follow the prevailing winds of the majority of people in the crowd. Individuals, who on their own might have a different view of things, still tend to follow the crowd. They refuse to stand out alone separate from the crowd. After all, they surmise, the crowd’s view might be the right one at the time.
So, in a matter of days, the crowd shouts to a reluctant leadership, for Jesus’ crucifixion. At that point in time, Jesus was the scapegoat whose demise would make everyone feel better- at least for that moment. Then what?
This is a good study for us. We are part of crowds and their behaviors. The majority view of the crowds that we are part of, shape our thoughts and behaviors as well. But we are called to be different.
Followers of Jesus, seek to extract themselves from the psychology of crowds and the prevailing thought of the crowd. This will always be, when noticed, an unpopular place to stand. No one knew this better than Paul, when he writes, Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Crowds are all around us, begging us to join in their judgments of the moment, but we are called to stand, like Jesus, apart, not swayed by the emotion of the crowd or their current positions, for they are always fickle and changing.
The Church is a gathering of those who have been called out of the crowd, ekklesia, to follow Jesus and learn to have his mind. The Church is not a crowd, liable to sway this way or that, pragmatically with the current winds. The Holy Spirit is the “wind” the Church follows. The Church is always about life, always sees the potential of life, and refuses to have anything to do with death. Crowds, unlike the Church, deal in necessary “sacred death” and sacrifice. The crowd reacts mainly from fear: Isn’t it expedient that one man die, than all the people perish?
We seek, guided by the Gospel, to have Jesus’ mind. Like him and unlike the crowd, the only sacrifice we require is our own. We try to stand apart from the crowd in their cheers and jeers. We resist actively and non-violently to the machinations of the crowds we find ourselves in. When we fail to do so, we confess and ask God’s forgiveness. Receiving God’s mercy, we become merciful to everyone, even forgiving our enemies. This is the wisdom of Palm Sunday. We can’t live without it. (emphasis added - LR)
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English, Anglican Communion) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.
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