Recently, a writer I respect became the subject of twitter beef. The virtual crowds were starting to circle this guy like prey, and I looked on with grief. I wasn’t involved in this beef, mind you. I was just watching it go down. But instinctively I felt my defenses start to rise. Though I’m not connected to this man directly (and wasn’t even sure if I agreed with him on the issue in question), I felt the heat of the accusations hurled at him. I identified myself with him, so there was a sting in every blow. His pain felt personal.
Until I realized... it wasn’t. Those darts were directed at him, I reasoned. No one knew me. And no one knew I respected him. It was upon this realization that a new instinct kicked in: survive! Distance yourself from this dude and shapeshift. Become someone else, anyone else. Align with the crowd! Evolve!
Eventually, I registered how fickle I was being and, basically, it felt gross. Here was a guy who was regularly putting himself out there, stepping out in courage and often giving a voice to my truth. But at the first sign of his humanness (his possible fallibility), and especially when I saw the crowds start to salivate, I was ready to drop him like a bad habit on Tuesday. Who was this guy anyway? Or perhaps, more fittingly, who was I?
On issues big or small, aligning with the crowd can feel safe. It promises affirmation, acceptance and even peace and justice. But, in reality, the crowd is capricious and cruel. You might be leading the crowd one day but, eventually, the crowd is over you. The crowd feeds off of fame and then delights demise. The crowd will celebrate you, align with you and even worship you. But then, at the slightest turn of popular approval, the crowd will most certainly deny you, shame you and leave you - alone.
Who are you apart from the crowd? What do you believe? Who do you love? How do you love? How will you live? These are good questions, and should be revisited, reviewed and revised regularly. But these are questions we need to ask ourselves in quiet spaces, because the crowd will give you no time to think about it. The crowd celebrates chameleons who conform and change along with each whim. You’re on this side! Now you’re on that side! Forget that person! Embrace this one! And eventually, given enough transmutations, the chameleon will blend in so well they won’t even be able to find themselves.
According to the Gospels, less than a week before Jesus’ crucifixion, crowds gathered and spread their cloaks and leafy branches on the road as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. They went before Jesus and came behind Him shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Then, within a week, the crowds were surrounding that very same Jesus, accusing Him falsely and calling for his murder...
Jesus’ murder was gruesome. He was physically tortured. He was struck in the head. He was spit upon. His clothes were taken. He was exposed. I can’t overstate (or even comprehend) the severity of His physical agony before and during his crucifixion.
But something I’ve been especially aware of this year, in light of my own fickle heart and struggle to be accepted by the crowd, is that physical torture wasn’t the only kind of torture Jesus endured. His suffering went much deeper than His flesh being ripped and His blood being spilled. Jesus suffered the torture of rejection.
Jesus was rejected by the people He loved. Everything, from his trial to the crucifixion, was a spectacle for all to see. As His body was broken, He wanted to gather those around Him as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they mocked Him. They intensely hated Him. Even the most reviled criminals alive condemned Him. His disciples, those closest to Him, were gone. No one defended Him; He had no one in his corner. Jesus was forsaken.
Though not nearly as intense as Jesus’ experience, I think we can all relate to the very real pain of rejection and loneliness. It causes pain that goes deeper than a flesh wound. It seems to seep out of our hearts, or someplace in our center that we can’t quite identify. It can cause us to physically writhe, to disconnect, to eat, to drink, to shut down, to self-destruct...
But even in our darkest moments, we who are in Christ, will never know the degree of rejection and loneliness that Jesus knew when He bore the sins of the world. That’s because Jesus was not only physically tortured. He was not only rejected by the crowd and those closest to Him. Jesus was also completely and utterly forsaken by... His Father.
The crowd today isn't much different from the crowd who welcomed Jesus with a parade one day, and then, days later, cried out for his crucifixion. The crowd today still loves to celebrate a savior and then make a sport of shame. The crowd today is certainly still thirsty for blood.
But, when it comes to us, the mercurial crowd can never completely cut us off. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve tweeted. Even if the crowds compel all of our friends to split, we will never be utterly forsaken. And that’s because Jesus (who was utterly forsaken for us) has promised never to leave us or forsake us.
So this Holy Week, with grateful reverence, as we remember all that Christ endured for us, let’s not worry too much about the crowd, virtual or real. Sometimes the crowd is spot on, and sometimes its seriously misguided. But whichever way the crowd goes, let’s love and respect the individuals who make up the crowd. Let’s speak with love and boldness, remembering those forsaken, and refusing to forsake. Because, after all, the crowd is made up of people. And people need Jesus. So let’s be brave enough to follow Jesus’ example - loving Him and loving others in and out of “the crowd.”
Amy Hill lives in New Jersey with her husband and three daughters. She is a lawyer and the owner of fairsourcegoods.com. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Seeds of Hope Ministries in Camden, NJ. And she writes/podcasts at amyonthehill.com. Follow her on twitter and instagram @amybxhill.