Year A (17 April 2011)
Many of us would have heard homilies on this weekend before Easter that made reference to the fickleness of the people in the crowds in the readings who within a matter of days changed their happy song of ‘Hosanna” to heartless cries of “Crucify him!’ The assumption being that the people who welcomed Jesus on his arrival in Jerusalem on the Sunday were the same people who bullied Pilate into releasing Barabbas and executing Jesus five days later.
Pope Benedict in part two of his study on Jesus of Nazareth focusing on Holy Week that was published last month says emphatically that they were not the same people. He writes ‘All the Gospels make it very clear that the scene of Messianic homage to Jesus was played out on his entry into the city and that those taking part were not the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but crowds who accompanied Jesus and entered the Holy City with him.’ These would have been fellow pilgrims from towns and villages far and near who were travelling with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Many of them would have witnessed miraculous healings and the amazing scenes at Lazarus’ tomb just days before.
Pope Benedict writes ‘In Matthew’s account when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred (the word Matthew uses here is the same word he uses to describe the earthquake when Jesus was crucified and the great earthquake when the angel rolled back the stone from his tomb) and they asked : Who is this? And the crowds said: This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. People had heard of the prophet from Nazareth, but he did not appear to have any importance for Jerusalem, and the people did not know him. The crowd that paid homage to Jesus at the gateway to the city was not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion. ‘
The crowd who called for Jesus’ death was made up of followers of Barabbas who had been mobilised to secure the Passover amnesty for him: as a rebel against Roman occupation he could naturally count on a good number of supporters. There was nothing that Pilate could say that would dissuade them; they were completely indifferent to Jesus. The others in the crowd were the Temple aristocracy; the Jewish religious leaders and their followers who wanted Jesus executed for blasphemy.
Certainly there must have been some in the crowd who cried out to Pilate to release Jesus but their voices were drowned by the loud majority. This meant that the vox populi (the voice of the people), on which Roman law was build, was one-sided. The Barabbas crowd was conspicuous while the followers of Jesus could not be seen or heard.
We have a similar situation in our own society and world. The public and political voices rejecting religion and ridiculing Christ are heard way and above the prayers of the faithful – and the result is the same; violence to solve problems and settle differences and the cries of the helpless, the defenceless, the battered and the beaten are looked on with indifference.
The excited crowd that welcomed Jesus to the Holy City with joyful praise and waving palms were filled with hope, eager expectation and enthusiasm. But all too soon their passion was smothered by fear and doubt.
We all face that fear and doubt at some time. The commitment that Jesus expects from us is daunting. Love in the face of rejection and hostility; love in the face of injustice; love in the face of pain and suffering; love in the face of death. For each of us there will be a time for singing our hosannas and a time to shoulder our cross.
As the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter Triduum approach we might like to consider how our attitude to Easter so often resembles that of the crowds and resolve to do better. Perhaps this Easter we could focus our hearts more on the sacred significance of these holy days and less on the cheer of a long holiday.
The Easter Triduum is the ultimate celebration of our faith. Starting on Thursday night with the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and finishing on Easter Sunday with the Resurrection, in and through the Triduum we profess who we are and what we believe. Our Easter activities should mirror our faith; our faith reflected in our actions.
Easter is a time for us to be seen and heard as disciples of Christ; to be seen and heard above the noise of those who are indifferent to Jesus of Nazareth; seen and heard above the crowds who are indifferent to the Good News of Salvation.