Harboring the Mob: A Lenten Devotional

“Evil is unspectacular and always human,
And shares our bed and eats our own table…”

-W. H. Auden from “Herman Melville”

This Lent, I am fighting my innate tendency to identify myself with the “good guys” of Holy Week while vilifying the obvious “bad guys.” It is all-too-easy to read the gospels through a moralistic lens; however, if I understand the gospel correctly, every believer has a bit of the “bad guys” in them in some seed-like form. I want and need to do the hard work of searching my own heart for latent kernels of hidden and habitual sin. To have a truly biblical view of self is to admit that, given the right soils and circumstances, such kernels could grow into full-grown sin if not seen and laid before the light.

The gospel tells me that my heart harbors both hatred and hope. My hope, therefore, is not what is true about me, but what is true about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. As such, I am free to admit the ugly and to run to the Beautiful One.

Crowds. Some people love them. Other people hate them. But all of us are affected by them. We are influenced and shaped by the opinions of those around us. Whether adapting or pushing back upon the opinions of the crowds around us, we react to the opinions of others.

I did not realize how contagious crowd-think could be until the pandemic hit. While I am typically a fairly steady person, I felt like a chameleon when the coronavirus hit. My opinions shifted daily, sometimes hourly, depending on what articles I had recently read and who I was around. I found myself wanting to fit in and be accepted into whatever circles of strong opinions surrounded me at the moment.

Crowds play a significant part in the events of Holy Week. The week begins with Palm Sunday, where we remember the crowds who enthusiastically cheered Jesus’s approach to Jerusalem. These crowds gladly laid their cloaks down in homage to Jesus, the Messiah, the Sent One, who came into town riding on a donkey (the well-known symbol of a peaceful king). They chanted and cheered “Hosanna!” (which means God save us!) and rode high on the hopes that Jesus would fulfill their expectations (Matt. 21:6–11).

Thankfully, Christ was familiar with crowds. From very early on his public ministry, crowds gathered as news of his healing and miracles spread. Rather than inflate with the approval of gathering crowds, Jesus showed a healthy disinterest in them. His identity and confidence did not fluctuate with the fickle waxing and waning of crowd approval.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23–25).

He knew what was in the heart of man. He knew man’s fair-weather friendship and faithfulness. He did not live for the approval or in fear of the censure of crowds, for he lived under gaze of his Good Father.

Such knowledge and practice served him well, as the same crowds that cheered him, in the span of a few short days, would jeer him. They would soon gather before the Roman governor demanding the release of Barabbas, a dangerous criminal, rather than the Messiah they’d championed days earlier. Stirred up by their leaders and caught up in fear, disappointment, and the mob mentality, they would chant, “Let him be crucified!” (Matt. 27:15–23).

It is easy to shake our heads and point our fingers in judgement at such a fickle crowd. It is much harder to see ourselves in that same mocking mob. Yet, when I dig into the subsoil of my heart, I find a similar desire to fit in with the crowd and uncover fickle faithfulness with an uncanny resemblance to theirs.

In a time where public pressure and the mob mentality rule the roost, whose voices are we listening to and whose approval are we seeking? Do we hear our own voices shifting from praises to punishment when God does not do what we expected on the timeline we anticipated? Are we willing to lay our cloaks before him one minute but watch his cloak be stripped from him the next?

We can fight against crowd-think with a better version of it. For, as we seek to listen to God through His Word and to speak forth the truth even when it is wildly unpopular (or even, for some, illegal), we are cheered on by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and finished their race.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb.12:1–2).

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