We have two readings from Mark’s gospel, and each describes a crowd. There is the enthusiastic crowd of people who cheer Jesus when He enters Jerusalem on the back of the donkey, and there is the mob that jeers at Him on the cross. To which crowd would we have belonged; possibly both?
Crowds are notoriously unstable. A group of football fans that is at one moment enjoying a game with relaxed cheerfulness can easily become a threatening mob. To be in a big group of people can feel like belonging to a community, and may be so. But you can also be sucked up into a mob in which one loses one’s individuality and consents to terrible deeds.
Today as we begin Holy Week, we are invited to become holy. Holy people grow into an independence of mind and heart which protects them from the false seductions of the mob. A saint is someone who, by the grace of God, is becoming the person God created them to be.
Often we succumb to the desire to blend in with trendy fashions of clothing, gadgets, and hairstyles, to mention a few, and try to see ourselves in popular movie actors or athletes of our times. Celebrities attract vast praise, and thousands wish to belong to their ‘community’ through Twitter, YouTube or Facebook. By associating with them, wearing their clothes, supporting their team, bearing their brand, we may hope to find our identity. But the saints take the risk of being themselves, the unique friend of God that they are. They are non-conformist when it comes to mob mentality.
The crowd that cheers Jesus as He enters Jerusalem is drawn by His power and popularity. He comes as the promised King, the descendant of King David. They sing ‘Hosanna’, which means ‘Save us’. They gather around Him and escort Him into the city as fans cheer a nearby movie star or athlete. But many in the crowd that now praises Him will also be in the crowd that unites against Him and mocks Him, taunting Him with His apparent powerlessness.
The powerful and beautiful attract us. We hope that by being with them, we may catch some of their strength and beauty and stave off the fear that we are nobodies. The powerless can also evoke strong reactions, like sharks attracted to a wounded fish or when celebrities fall, the media-mob smell blood.
So as we begin Holy Week, it is worth asking how we respond to power and its loss. Do we zero-in on the famous and strong people, even those who do morally wrong things, ignoring our Christian convictions in the hope of sharing in a bit of their glamour? Do we distance ourselves from being faithful to Jesus and His teachings for fear of being different or despised? Or do we dare to follow the King who “being found in human form humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross”?
Jesus forms around Himself a community on Easter Sunday, in which we find a multitude of brothers and sisters sharing a common faith, but also a community in which we are meant to be ourselves, each person experiencing through the Holy Spirit a deep and personally love relationship with Jesus and His Heavenly Father.