At Saint Paul’s, we remember this week by walking with Jesus day by day through the Gospel of Mark. As such, I’ll be reflecting on those daily lessons here at Draughting Theology. Today’s lesson is Mark 11:27-12:12, the Authority of Jesus is Questioned. I’ll deal with the authority issue in my homily for Evening Prayer. This morning, I find myself interested in the crowd.
It is Tuesday in the week before the Passover. When travel is accomplished by means of beast of burden, you build some extra time into your trip planning, and so the crowds entering Jerusalem for the festival are growing larger and larger. The Temple is abuzz with energy, anticipation, and nervousness. Everybody knows what happened yesterday. Jesus, a itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth had created quite a raucous as he flipped the tables and ran out the money changers. Rumor had it that the Sanhedrin was working out a way to get rid of this troublemaker. The crowd at the Temple swelled in anticipation of a showdown.
Jesus didn’t let them down. After spending the night in Bethany, they returned to the holy city and made their way back to the scene of yesterday’s blowup. As he made his way through the outer porticoes, the crowd gathered closer and closer to him. Suddenly, a gap formed, making way for a representative group of the Sanhedrin to approach him. They were on a mission: to shut down Jesus’ ministry before things got out of control. They quickly realized, however, that control was something they lacked.
Twice in the story of Tuesday, Mark tells us that the chief priests, scribes, and elders failed to act out of fear of the crowd. They could not answer Jesus’ question about the baptism of John in the way they wanted to because the knew that everyone considered him a prophet and martyr. They would not arrest Jesus after his scathing parable because the crowd listened to his teaching as one with true authority. The crowd kept Jesus alive, at least for one more day.
Much has been made this election cycle of the power of the crowd, but this really is nothing new. Politicians have always been able to rise to power based on their ability to stir up a crowd. While his message might be abhorrent, what Donald Trump is doing is no different than what made Barack Obama, John Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, and Abraham Lincoln popular in their times. It really is no different than what we see playing out among the crowd during Holy Week. On Sunday, they welcomed Jesus as a king. By Tuesday, they were enamored with his displays of power. Come Friday, however, the Sanhedrin will have flipped the script, and with the crowd now on their side, will turn shouts of “Hosanna” into cries for Jesus’ execution. We should be wary of the crowd: both our ability to manipulate it and our place within it. For it is the crowd that gives authority, and the crowd that can ever so quickly take it away.