We just celebrated Palm Sunday, where the people hailed Christ as King with loud “Hosannas.”
Five days later they cry out “Crucify Him!”
Often I am asked by my students how they could turn on Him so quickly. The answer is mob mentality.
Gustave Le Bon wrote extensively about how mobs of people can behave in ways that individuals do not. In these mobs, people lose their individuality and get swept up in the emotion of the group. Anyone who has been to an intense sporting event understands this feeling as the cheers, the boos, and the chorus of “We Will Rock You!” echoes through the stands. But that is only a small taste of how mob mentality works.
Mobs are fired up by emotion and then they act without thinking. Rational discourse and discussion are not how to communicate with a mob. Instead, leaders of mobs whip up the group into a frenzy and then turn them towards some action. You can see this when there are riots in the streets of our cities. Let’s say some great injustice occurs and a large group of protesters turn to rioting. Sometimes they will attack and destroy business and buildings that have nothing to do with the injustice they are protesting. If, while they are rioting, you try to reason with them, it will have no effect. That is because the emotion of the group has sublimated their rational thought. While this may sound a bit like brainwashing, it is a common occurrence for those who are caught up in the moment.
And the emotion of the mob is fickle. It can turn from love to hate quickly. Again, think about how quickly an Atlanta Falcons fan, for example, could go from “Falcons are awesome!” to “Falcons are awful!” in a few minutes during the superbowl. Fans can have these turns on their own, but the shifts are more powerful and more volatile in the crowd.
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He allowed the people to hail him as King. This is something that he staunchly avoided throughout most of His ministry. When I was younger I always found this very curious, since Jesus is, in fact, the King. Why not have the people acclaim Him that way. But in John 6, after He multiplies the loaves and fish, He runs away when they want to make Him King. It wasn’t until years later that I think I finally understood why:
Jesus is not the leader of a mob.
Throughout history charismatic leaders have been able to move large groups of people by the power of their rhetoric. This can be done in positive ways like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or in diabolical ways like Hitler and his rallies. Whenever anyone has a large group of followers, they wield great influence over how that crowd behaves. And that power can sometimes be irrational and overly emotional.
To be sure, Jesus does speak words that move the heart. And Jesus does speak to crowds. But He is not trying to create a mob movement.
Jesus does not want crowds of people shouting His name. That is not the end goal. What He wants is the personal encounter with someone in faith.
Take the story of the woman with the hemorrhage from Mark 5. Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd who presses in on him. But when one woman suffering from a hemorrhage touches Him in faith, only she is healed. He then stops everything and speaks to her. In that moment, Christ was not interested in the crowd, but the person.
In Perelandra, CS Lewis says of Christ’s sacrifice, “When He died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less. “
I remember when I was a teenager I was invited to the house of a young lady who hosted a prayer group. She was welcoming and charismatic and a wonderful hostess to the the groups that came. But one night I found myself sitting alone and she came up to me and spoke with me. We’ve all had those experiences where someone is speaking to us out of courtesy and social custom but we get the distinct feeling they would rather be somewhere else. But when this young lady spoke to me, she seemed genuinely interested in my thoughts, my feelings, and my life.
There was a distinct difference between being welcomed as a part of a group and being cared for as an individual.
When it comes to Jesus, it is all about the individual. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a communal nature to our faith. Human beings are social beings. But the relationship we have to Jesus is not one of crowd to idol but of individual to individual.
Notice how Peter’s confession of faith comes about in Matthew 16. Jesus asks who do the people say that He is. The crowds give Him several different titles like John the Baptist or Elijah. But Jesus asks the more personal question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15) No longer can the Apostles hide their thoughts and feelings by mingling it with the crowd. This is a personal answer. And only Peter has the wherewithal to answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt 16:16)
The only time Jesus allowed the crowd to have its say about Him was in the final week of his Earthly life. They laud Him and then they loathe Him. He comes in as their victor until He becomes their victim. Jesus knows that mobs are fickle things.
In the end, Jesus wants not to be the Monarch of a Mob. Instead He wants to reign as Lord in each person’s heart.
Copyright 2017, WL Grayson