The same old crowd – Ross Jones SJ

The week leading to Easter begins with the account of Palm Sunday where Jesus is caught up in that rather triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The mood of the crowd, at first ecstatic with joy and hope, takes a turn. The Palm Sunday story has long fascinated me – it paints an aspect of human nature that has changed little over the millennia.

Those who are given to remark that the Gospels (or indeed the Bible) has little to say to us today – to these times and our present-day issues – have most likely read or reflected little upon such texts. 

This throng of Jesus’ followers have been swept up by his words, his cures and his bounty – and they have now taken to the streets. This man seems the incarnation of all their hopes. He is the one who was to come – the Messiah. So they parade Jesus royally towards Jerusalem. In a surge of enthusiasm and wild gesture, they even throw their clothes on the ground for him to walk upon; a carpet of reverence. Others pull branches from trees to lay at his feet, to settle the dust and smooth the way. They chant songs of his kingly lineage and mighty power.

But within a week that very same crowd will be baying for his blood. They will trade him for a base criminal. They will hand him over to the occupying forces – their bitter enemy. Their cries of hosanna become cries of crucifixion. They will judge Jesus unjustly, torture him and strip away every vestige of dignity. They will send him to the most horrific of deaths – the one reserved for the utterly despised and rejected people.

This is the same crowd! No one was there to counter the groundswell of changing opinion and simply ask ‘But didn’t we just …?’ ‘Can’t you remember when …?’ ‘Hang on a minute …?’ ‘Have we forgotten something here …?’ 

Was there no one to take a stand, to point to a truth, to remember the story? Maybe there were some – but if there were, they were a muffled minority.

Does it sound all-too-familiar? The public opinion, the groupthink, the peer pressure, the media campaigns; this is the human condition, be it 33 AD or the third millennium. Yesterday’s heroes are dragged from the pedestals we put them on. The highfliers are shot down, and the tall poppies cut. Their supporters and allies slip away into the night. 

There’s a sense of public delight in seeing someone humiliated; in watching someone squirm as the gossip circulates, and the media go into a frenzy. ‘Never kick a man when he’s down’ is the old adage – but we do, so often. An Australian of the Year and double Brownlow Medalist, in a complex ‘fall from grace’ is booed into depression and early retirement. It looks like a twenty-first century coliseum fixture. 

A Rugby League pin-up boy, the darling of the sports press, commits a tacky indiscretion at an Australia Day party and his character is in tatters. The satirical shows milk every drop of humiliation from it, and he is whisked away overseas; deported. In politics, on both sides of the House, leaders are lionised. The Party stands shoulder to shoulder at their back. After the adulation, they don’t deliver, and so before long the knives come out. Off to the backbench, then the back blocks, and it’s a field day for the columnists. Where is the next Messiah-in-waiting? We know it on a smaller scale, too; in families, the schoolyard, in the team, in the workplace and at the club.

Yes, the Gospels capture human nature well. That’s because the authors don’t write from theory. They know the human condition – they describe the reality plainly. And then they present alternatives, different values and another frame of reference.

Perhaps one of our prayers this Easter Week might be for consistency; for integrity. For God’s grace to resist the seduction of destructive public opinion. Not to ‘go with the flow’ or be a ‘fair weather friend’. When dark voices would lead us in ways that, in our clearer and more authentic moments we would never tread, we can choose not to clamour with the mob or share the herd mentality, but pray for the strength to be a voice of truth or of charity when false, loud and insistent voices abound.