I have heard people muse, “What sport would Jesus play?” Some say, baseball – the timeless game which is counter to life after the industrial revolution. Some say, surfing – after all Jesus walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Some say football (soccer), as it is the ‘beautiful game’ and the most like life. While I have no clue what sport Jesus would play (even if he would play a sport), I do know that Jesus is very familiar with something that those in professional sport are used to – the often fickle sway of the crowd.
Today is Palm Sunday. Today marks the beginning of Holy Week and the build up to Easter. Today the crowds cheer and shout for Jesus – their hope, their champion, their friend, their king. But the crowd will quickly change into Friday’s murderous mob – demanding Jesus’ death and crucifixion.
Those in sport know about fan fickleness – one moment the crowd can be chanting your name and singing from the terraces all sorts of praise and glory. The next moment they can be calling down curses on your head and asking for your resignation.
Have you ever stopped to consider what makes us change and shift our allegiances so rapidly? Whether politically, religiously, or sports-wise we have a penchant for radical swings in whom we swear fealty to or align ourselves with. Consider the current political climate in the United States. Or, your local sports team that goes from the heights to the depths. For the Colorado Rapids team that I serve, the past couple of years have seen some of that vitriolic response as the club went from winning the championship in 2010 to last place in the West in 2015. Last weekend’s home victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy led one fan-based blog to ask the proverbial ‘all forgiven?’ question. But what makes one go from hero to goat in such short a time?
Palm Sunday: Unmet Expectations
Perhaps the answer lies within the expectations that go unmet and the apathy or agony that can come as a result. I remember back in 2011, the Rapids had won the championship and throttled the Portland Timbers in the home opener 3-1. The winning ways seemed like they would continue as the team started out with a 3-0 record. But the end of the season saw the Rapids fall in the 2nd round of the playoffs and some felt that the team had not lived up to the expectations from the previous year’s success.
In Jesus’ case, we can now see that the cheering crowds of Palm Sunday and their own unmet expectations. Some thought Jesus would come in and change the political landscape. Some thought a violent revolution would overthrow the Roman occupation. Some thought Jesus would lead Israel into the dawning of a new era. It’s pretty clear that by mid-week, the betrayal bug had hit within Jesus’ closest circle and that perhaps we can point a finger at Judas for having the ‘unmet expectations’ that led to the downturn in the crowd.
But, while I find it easy to blame Judas we have to realize that Peter is right there in step with Judas. While Peter’s betrayal is different, Peter had his own expectations that went unmet. And, truthfully, my own emotion and faith in God probably would not have even matched that of Peter or Judas. How often do I see God as a trinket, or a token? How often do I turn away in betrayal when my own expectations are unmet? If I am honest, I am probably better to admit that I would be standing amidst the crowd holding my own charges against Jesus.
Palm Sunday: Peer Pressure
Perhaps the crowd swing wasn’t as much about unmet expectations as it was perhaps a matter of sheer numbers. Maybe it was more a case of peer pressure winning out the day. Maybe it is the voice and force of the crowd that pressures one into complacently following the mob-like derision. Consider for a moment the incident at the Turkey-Greece friendly where fans booed during a moment of silence. I was reminded of a scene in the old film Jesus of Nazareth, where the crowd is given the chance to free Jesus or Barabbas. Many shout ‘Jesus’ but are quickly quieted and overwhelmed by the crowd with a coercive work at hand.
Crowds are a funny thing. It is often easier to fall inline – even when we disagree or know what is happening is wrong. It is easier to stay silent and be counted among the majority than it is to swim upstream against the flow. And whether the crowd is cheering or jeering, it can be easy for us, too to simply be another number amongst the throng.
Palm Sunday: A Mysterious Tension
When reading about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, it might seem that Jesus is a willing participant in the unfolding drama; after all, when told to silence the crowd he defies the religious leaders.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40)
There is this strange, mysterious tension – is Jesus just basking in the crowd’s adulation? Is he unaware that Monday’s cheers will turn into Friday’s jeers? Is Jesus naive? Fortunately, Luke’s gospel account helps us see differently than the other gospel writers,
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)
We must always be careful as to where our allegiances land – whether in the cheering or jeering. We ought to examine ourselves and our expectations – whether of our family, friends, or even within our faith. Are they wrongly placed or prioritized? We should be careful and aware of the pressures of the crowd and those parts of the throng that encourage us to act and step out of character or get us to do things that we know to be wrong deep inside. While there is a mysterious tension that can often surround (as we see in the crowd of Palm Sunday) – even when we do find that we’ve been subsumed into the majority of the mob we need to know that God’s grace and forgiveness are greater and louder than any cries we might have shouted – whether we shout “Hosanna!” or “Crucify!” or both.
Rev. Brad Kenney