The not-so fickle crowd
One of the old favourites of preachers at this time of year is to talk about the fickle crowd.
It’s the idea that the cheering crowd that welcomed Jesus with sweet ‘‘Hosanna’’ later cried ‘‘crucify him!’’
‘‘Such is the fickle nature of humanity’’, many clergy say, but it just doesn’t ring true to me.
Yes, there is a crowd cheering Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey as the humble, servant king.
And yes there is a crowd that calls ‘‘crucify him!’’ but there is no evidence that it was the same crowd.
The crowd that welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday are usually referred to as ‘‘the people’’.
They are the regular, average citizens, the poor of the land.
The people perceived that someone great and glorious, indeed, heaven-sent, was arriving.
They burst forth with praise: ‘‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’
They probably did not understand who Jesus truly was because not even his disciples grasped that.
But the people at least understood him as ‘‘a prophet sent from God’’.
There is no evidence that these people, just a week later, screamed and rioted in demand of Jesus’ execution.
I have no doubt that the mood can turn against once-popular leaders; we’ve seen that often enough in Australian politics, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
People’s opinions about leaders move from initial great enthusiasm to deep disappointment and bitterness slowly, over time (months and years), based on the disappointing actions of those leaders.
But there was another crowd who were a nasty coalition of conservative forces: chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees, who were all interested in preserving their power.
Throughout this last week of Jesus’ life this crowd grows more and more desperate to kill him.
Traps are set and curly questions are posed to try to catch Jesus out.
Jesus himself ups the ante by upturning the tables of the money changers outside the temple and taking a whip to those who would stop the poor and ordinary people from practising their faith.
And so we see plots develop. The religious authorities want to arrest him but ‘‘they feared the crowds’’.
The problem they faced in bringing down Jesus was his continuing popularity with the ordinary people.
They were not fickle. They were consistent.
If anything, throughout this week Jesus’ popularity with the masses grows.
This crowd’s open embrace of Jesus was growing and it served as his protection from the growing crowd of plotters.
But the crowd of leaders opposing him was also growing.
We read that the chief priests and elders gathered together and ‘‘plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.’’
Why the stealth? Because this crowd of plotters feared upsetting the other crowd of ordinary people.
Since their attempts to turn the crowd’s opinion against Jesus failed, their only option was to go around the crowd. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he arrived with ‘‘a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people’’.
This is the crowd that would push for crucifixion, a crowd consisting of chief priests and elders and their cronies.
And so the plot unfolded at night and throughout the night, when the people were largely asleep and unaware of the unfolding events.
By the time they awoke the next morning, the arrest and trial was done. Jesus was crucified at 9 am before the crowd would have come looking for Jesus to see and learn from him.
When we read ‘‘now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus’’ all the indications are that this refers to the crowd of fellow elders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees that the narrative indicates had been gathering and assembling and moving about all night.
It was they who said, ‘‘crucify him’’.
So let us stand with the blind, the lame, the disciples, the children, the Cyrene, the women, and the general populace, who all saw the truth, at least in part.
Stand with them in wonder and worship at the foot of the cross, and do not diminish their child-like faith with talk of fickleness.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.