Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Crowd trouble

One of my favourite Holy Week hymns is Samuel Crossman’s My Song is Love Unknown. The third verse always stands out for me:

Sometimes they strew His way,

And His sweet praises sing;

Resounding all the day

Hosannas to their King:

Then ‘Crucify!’ is all their breath,

And for His death they thirst and cry.

Doug Chaplin has posted an interesting blog questioning whether the crowd that welcomes Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is the same crowd that then turns on him on Good Friday. Doug comments:

Every year, on or after this day, someone – sooner or later – and usually in a sermon, draws our attention to the “fact” that the crowds crying “Hosanna” on Sunday were crying “Crucify” on Friday.

I’ve already noted that in Luke’s Gospel it is the accompanying disciples who cry “Hosanna”. Luke, for one, doesn’t make the psychologising identification beloved by preachers, but which is read into some kind of harmonised “gospel story”.

Borg_Crossan_The_Last_Week_sm[5] I happened to be reading the section in Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan’s book The Last Week yesterday, in which they reflect on the role of the crowd in Mark. They make an interesting comparison between the Gospels and stress that in Mark the crowd is supportive of Jesus, forcing the hostile authorities to abandon any attempt at a public arrest (Mk 14:1-2) and therefore dependent on Judas to betray Jesus. They note:

  • Mark has five references to a supportive/protective crowd between Sunday and Tuesday (11:8-10; 11:18; 11:32; 12:12; 12:37)
  • Matthew has three of Mark’s five (21:8-9, 26, 46)
  • Luke three or four depending on how one understands ‘the whole multitude of the disciples’ during the entry. (19:37-38, 47-48; 20:6,19)
  • John only has the entry into Jerusalem (12:12-18)
  • They also cite Josephus for a pro Jesus crowd and anti Jesus authorities: Jewish Antiquities 18:63-64.

What is clear is the recognition of a supportive crowd forcing the authorities to abandon any confrontation in public. Even if Luke is only referring to the disciples for the entry into Jerusalem, the crowd are still identified as supportive early in the week. Is this the crowd that turns on Jesus? Crossan and Borg argue against this and suggest a smaller, different crowd provided by the authorities. They don’t give much support for this argument except to say that it is unlikely the crowd from earlier in the week would be allowed into Herod’s palace.

To return to the hymn. Why I find it so powerful is that it reminds me how fickle I am in my own faith. Times of passion, joy and dedication are so quickly followed by periods of apathy and complacency. I may not be shouting out ‘Crucify’ in open hostility but the blandness of my discipleship is still depressing. It is also sobering to remember that one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers may not have shouted ‘Crucify’ on that first Good Friday but he did deny any knowledge of Jesus when the crunch came.

So I make the last verse of the hymn a prayer for this week:

Here might I stay and sing,

No story so divine;

Never was love, dear King!

Never was grief like Thine.

This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise

I all my days could gladly spend.


Pstyle said...

Theres no reason to dismiss the rent-a-crowd option. We see it heppaning all over the world today with political rallies. Why wouldn't it have wored 2000 years ago?

Philip Ritchie said...

Pstyle, I'm not dismissing the rent-a-crowd option just pointing out that Crossan and Borg don't give any supporting evidence from the text. What they write is:
'Almost certainly, this is not the same crowd that heard Jesus with delight during the week; Mark gives us no reason to think that crowd turned against Jesus. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the crowd from earlier in the week would be allowed into Herod's palace, where this scene is set. This crowd, the crowd stirred up by the chief priests, must have been much smaller and is bets understood as provided by the authorities...'

How can they be so certain? When a student uses the phrase 'almost certainly' in an essay I always look for the supporting evidence and if it isn't provided then I pick them up on it. Crossan and Borg do this rather a lot in some of their writing cf. The Last Week and The First Paul.

You are right to say we see rent-a-crowds today so that might explain what was going on. We also see examples of crowds easily swayed in one direction and then another depending on the prevailing influences, so it is not incomprehensible that the crowds who favoured Jesus then turned against him, for example, for failing to deliver on their desire to see the Romans driven out of Jerusalem.

If you check out the comments on Doug's post you will see quite strong arguments for a different crowd in herod's Palace for a variety of reasons. I have no problem with that position but we need to be carfeul we don't fall in to the trap that Doug is rightly criticising; speculating and projecting on to the text what isn't there.

Pstyle said...

Sorry, didn;t mean to imply that you were being dimissive of the explanation. I'm just saying I can buy into it, given that the text doesn't tell us for sure one way or the other.