Tag Archives: Mob

The Crowd

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

I have read the story of Jesus’ trial and execution countless times along my journey. It is packed with so many fascinating and meaningful moments that it’s hard to focus on one thing for a blog post like this. As I read a chapter each day I try simply to have my heart and mind open to what resonates most deeply with me in this moment, and this morning what resonated with me was the crowd.

Perhaps it’s because of the preponderance of media that gets focused on crowd events and all that we’ve witnessed in recent months and years. I’m thinking of all the marches, riots, demonstrations, and protests I’ve seen reported on the news and in social media recently. Whenever a crowd gathers it gets attention. We seem to have a lot of crowds.

There is a entire branch of sociology and psychology dedicated to understanding crowd (or mob) mentality. Interestingly enough, consensus among scholars is as hard to come by. I was intrigued, however, by the theory of Gustave Le Bon who boiled it down to three things:

  • Submergence: In the anonymity of the crowd individuals lose their sense of individual self and personal responsibility.
  • Contagion: Having lost their sense of self, individuals unquestioningly follow the predominant ideas and emotions of the crowd.
  • Suggestion: Ideas and emotions of the crowd are primarily drawn from a shared racial unconscious, uncivilized in nature, and limited by the moral and cognitive abilities of its least capable members.

Three things came to mind as I thought about the crowd shouting for Jesus’ execution.

First is the fact that five days earlier the crowd was shouting “Hosanna” as praising Jesus as “king” as He entered Jerusalem. Now the crowd has been persuaded to shout for Jesus’ blood. Wow. That’s a major drop in approval rating in just five days. It’s amazing how fickle crowds can be.

Which leads me to remembering a passage from John’s biography of Jesus. In the second chapter we find that the crowd of people believing in Jesus and following Him was growing rapidly. Jesus was trending in all the major outlets. The crowds were growing and His popularity was skyrocketing, but John records that Jesus “would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people.”

Which is why, perhaps, Jesus continued to remain silent as He stood by Pilate and witnessed the crowd that had turned on Him. Wednesday’s post about silence and spiritual authority comes back to mind. What a contrast we see in this picture. The lone figure of Jesus standing silent, bloodied, yet resolute in His mission against the submergence and contagion of the crowd whipped into a frenzy at the suggestion of Jesus’ enemies.

This morning I’m reminded of my desire to follow Jesus’ wisdom as it relates to crowds. I need to avoid entrusting my self to any crowd. This applies even to seemingly good crowds, for I’ve witnessed and been prey to crowd mentality even in nice neighborhoods, churches, social groups and communities.

I want my life, my beliefs, and my daily decisions to be guided by something more solid than the ever shifting mentality and emotion of a crowd. I want to be wise and discerning as I watch the crowd mentality emerge and “trend” in my social groups and in the media (including Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media outlets). I want my life to be focused on my mission, my role, and my responsibilities. That’s hard to do if I am unwittingly submerging my thoughts, emotions and actions to the crowd around me.

 

Trending

Angry-Crowd

But with loud shouts [the crowd] insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. Luke 23:23 (NIV)

When I read this verse this morning, two other verses instantly popped into my head. The first was from just a few chapters ago, and from just a few days earlier in Jesus’ own life journey:

As [Jesus] went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

What a difference a week makes. At the beginning of the week crowds were hailing Jesus as the new king coming to Jerusalem. By the end of the week crowds were shouting for his death so insistently that Pilate was forced to go against his better judgement and have Jesus crucified.

Crowds are fickle. Ask any celebrity or politician (is there a difference?) who surfs the waves of popularity. One day the public adores you, but in a moment they will turn. And, it doesn’t even take being guilty of something. It only takes gossip, rumor, and innuendo to quickly turn the tide of public sentiment against you.

Which brings me to another observation John makes in his biography of Jesus:

During the time [Jesus] was in Jerusalem, those days of the Passover Feast, many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them.

Jesus knew not to trust in His trending popularity. He knew that He was ultimately be rejected. He knew the prophecies. He realized from the beginning that the crowds would ultimately turn against Him. More often than not He was trying to escape the crowds get away by Himself or with His inner circle.

I find it fascinating that in all of His teaching Jesus never made any public plea for followers. There were no membership drives. No information cards in the back of the synagogue to fill out, and no mailing lists. The truth is that there is as much, in not more, evidence of Jesus discouraging those who asked to follow Him than the opposite.

What I’ve come to realize in my own experience is that being a follower of Jesus is not about fame, it’s about faith. It’s not about celebrity, it’s about service. It’s never about recognition, but about repentance. It’s never about being lauded, but about loving sacrificially as we’ve been sacrificially loved.

Chapter-a-Day Mark 14

Matthias Stom's depiction of Jesus before Caia...
Image via Wikipedia

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

 Jesus said, “I Am.” Mark 14:60-62a (NLT)

The more you understand about the scene that unfolds in today’s chapter, the more amazing it is. The religious racketeers led by their own version of the Godfather, Caiaphas the high priest (who wasn’t really in charge – the real “don” was his father-in-law, Ananias), pull together a kangaroo court in the middle of the night. The trial itself broke their several of their own laws and reveals how desperate they were to deal with Jesus secretly and swiftly, before the public got wind of it.

When Jesus answered the high priest’s question with the word “I Am,” he was making far more than a simple admission. The word Jesus used was the Hebrew Yahweh, translated “I am who I am.” It is the name to which God referred to Himself in the burning bush when He spoke to Moses (Exodus 3). The Jewish people considered that name holy, and it was reserved only for God Himself. The name was so holy, in fact, that it was never to be uttered by human lips. When Jesus responded to the high priest’s question with the word “Yahweh” He was literally claiming for Himself the holy name of God, and with that admission He drew a line in the sand.

The response from the high priest was swift and showy. He tore his robe (a traditional act  to show how grievous of a blasphemous wrong he’d just witnessed) and immediately called for a verdict. By uttering that one word and claiming to be God, Jesus sealed his human fate. He was savagely beaten for his admission and led off to the one man in Jerusalem who could legally have Him executed. It was another political move by the high priest. If Caiaphas and the religious racketeers killed Jesus, the public would turn on them. By getting the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, to sign the death order, they could point the finger of blame at him.

Today, what stands out for me as I read the chapter is the reality that the line in the sand remains two thousand years later. C.S. Lewis argued that with Jesus’ bold claim of being God, we find ourselves standing in the sandals of the religious leaders. Reason and logic dictate that Jesus was either a liar (He knew he wasn’t God but claimed to be), a lunatic (He thought he was God, but wasn’t), or Lord (He knew He was God, and was exactly who He claimed to be). As we read today’s chapter and consider the enormity of Jesus’ claim,  we each must each answer the high priest’s question: “What’s your verdict?”

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 14

Violence!
Image by Rickydavid via Flickr

But they went anyway; recklessly and arrogantly they climbed to the high hill country. But the Chest of the Covenant and Moses didn’t budge from the camp. The Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in the hill country came out of the hills and attacked and beat them, a rout all the way down to Hormah. Numbers 14:44-45 (MSG)

This morning I think about the people of Israel acting “recklessly and arrogantly” as they go up to the hill country on their own, even though they were warned against it. As I look back in time, I can see times that I have acted in the same manner. Spurred on by misplaced passion, pride, or selfishness, I have many times acted rashly with little or no thought and prayer about my actions.

The results are generally disastrous.

Following the trail of emotion that is described, which led up to the Israelites rash decision, I see (in order):

Fear
Anger
Pessimism
Discontent
Mob Violence
Guilt
Shame
Sorrow
Fear

Such a range of emotions in such a short period of time. It’s not exactly a recipe for thoughtful, sound decision making.

Today, I’m reminded to be wise in my decisions and actions. Snap decisions and rash actions that emerge out of intense emotion are likely to prove foolish.

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