The not-so fickle crowd

The Tatura Guardian - - People - — Brian Spencer, Min­is­ter, Tatura Unit­ing Church

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.

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