Jesus Entering Jerusalem, woodcut by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)
PALM SUNDAY: Matthew 21:6-11 — The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
GOOD FRIDAY (five days later): Matthew 27:15-18… 20-22 — Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him… But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”
In both stories above, “the crowd” plays a big part. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem. On Good Friday, it is the crowd that demands his crucifixion. There is no way to know if there were any of the same people in the two crowds. We just know that there was a lively and emotional crowd at both events.
For centuries Palm Sunday has been observed by large crowds. Just like on Easter and Christmas, one could always expect a large crowd in church on Palm Sunday. But not this year. All over the world, churches will be closed and there will be no crowds gathering for Palm Sunday. How strange, especially on this day when a big part of the story we would gather to hear is about the large crowd that gathered to worship Jesus and welcome him to Jerusalem. We will not be a part of a crowd on this Palm Sunday, but I will share a few words about crowds.
Crowds are made up of individuals who have chosen to “follow the crowd,” as we say. Following the crowd might be a good idea, or it might be a bad idea, depending on where the crowd is going. The crowd might be moving in the right direction, or it might be on the wrong path.
In the Gospels, many people saw the crowd gathering around Jesus, followed it, and then heard Jesus, believed in him, and were saved. But there were other times when the crowd was wrong, and turned against Jesus. We see that most dramatically on Good Friday when the crowd cried out for Pilate to crucify Jesus. It would have been better for those individuals to have not followed that crowd.
Every parent warns every teenager about the dangers of following the crowd. A few weeks ago I am sure there were parents who said, “I don’t care if all your friends are going to Florida for Spring Break in the midst of a pandemic. Don’t be stupid. Be your own person and think for yourself.” On the other hand, sometimes parents feel the need to appeal to the wisdom of following the crowd. “How come you have to dye your hair lime green and cover your arms with obscene tattoos? What’s the matter with you; why can’t you just be like everyone else?”
Following the crowd might be a bad idea and it might be a good idea. It depends on what the crowd is doing, where it is going, whether it is right or wrong, and if it will help or hurt you in the long run.
Jesus did not follow the crowd, he led the crowd. But he was not dependent on their praise and would not cater to their wishes. His sole desire was to do the Father’s will. The crowds did not always like that, and throughout the Gospels we see them coming and going. We this in John 6:66 which says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus then asked the twelve if they too were going to leave. Peter then spoke for all of them, declaring their intention to follow Jesus and not the crowd, saying in verse 68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
This is a choice we all face in many ways. Will we follow the crowd or will we follow Jesus—in our words, in our actions, and in our relationships?
Matthew 4:19a — “Come, follow me,” Jesus said…
John 10:27-28 — (Jesus said), “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Romans 12:1a — Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.
–St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)