Palm Sunday: Being Popular is Stupid (and Dangerous)

It’s always been a contrast to me that there’s some sort of fanfare for Palm Sunday — I mean, you even get a souvenir! But, moments after getting your prize for attendance, you are tossed into speaking up during the Gospel, and among other things, you have to shout “Crucify Him!” It takes the shine off that souvenir… that Palm is like a token of your participation in some of the most insane peer pressure and human respect ever woven.

Millions of People Visiting in Jerusalem for Passover

We are told that millions of people traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. Some say, 3 and others say 4, and even the “modern scholars” who think nobody could count until the 20th century overlook the precision of the multiplication of loaves and fishes by which the crowd was known, even how many crumbs were left. The Roman census had about 600,000 people living in Jerusalem in 56 A.D. We know that a census had also been done at the time of the Nativity as well. This crowd certainly had enough fans to make a party at Our Lord’s arrival:

So there’s our first event in view for Palm Sunday – everyone is happy to make celebration and praise the Guy that healed so and so’s cousin, brought sight to the blind guy, raised that guy from the dead, and ruined the swine trade in the Gatherenes (Gerasenes/Gerasa). He’s their Man! Hosanna! Everybody is speaking.

He’s a Celebrity! He’s Popular! If we had iPhones and Instagram, He’d be viral and on all the trending charts, right? His view counts would have smashed all records! People were talking about “that Guy.”

Then, reality sets in. You get to the Gospel narrative and we see more crowds. Like the time when Jesus asked who people say He is, and nobody got it right, none of these crowds get it right… That energy has turned into insanity and dangerous as well.

Faith Comes One By One, Not By Popularity or Celebrity Momentum

Every one of the crowds has one or two people who get it. But the crowds themselves do not. The “Popular” trend turns deadly.

The Sanhedrin

We see the Sanhedrin trials of Our Lord. They are telling Jesus what He needs to be. They get it all wrong. Then, by false witnesses, they fail and yet keep telling Jesus what He ought to say or do. Finally, Our Lord speaks the truth and says exactly what will happen. Immediately, they declare blasphemy and decide to take him to Pilate. (this is a lesson to us, as Fr. Hardon points out: Church reminds us that Apostates use the power of the state to destroy believers.)

When Jesus was on the Cross, they tell Him how to be God: “come down and save yourself.”

There are two people in this crowd who recognize the truth, though: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. I’m sure the crowd would call them blasphemers or, worse, conspiracy theorists. Just look at the numbers!

The Roman Soldiers

The oddest reaction is the Roman soldiers. We are told that the entire cohort was gathered for the prosecution of Jesus. That’s 480 men, a cohort. Not a small number. These guys knew real criminals — like the murderer Barrabas. They had robbers and thieves among them also. They knew that Jesus was not like the real criminals. And yet, what do they do? They get into a frenzy — what’s worse is that they were genuflecting and giving honors as if He was a king. Shoot — many Catholics today refuse to genuflect to Our Lord when passing in front of a tabernacle or at the appropriate times in Mass! They beat Our Lord as if He was one of these crimnals —

They tell Him how to be God: “Prophesy!” they say.

There are two of them in the Roman soldiers crowd, the centurion who we honor at every Mass, and eventually Longinus. That’s it.

The Regular People

We are told that the crowd had been whipped into shape and bent into purpose by the Pharisees and high priests. They are wild enough that Pilate capitulates, even. They tell Pilate “crucify Him” and “we want Barrabas!” Later, when Jesus is on the cross, they tell Jesus how to be God also. They get a little mixed up on the Elijah thing — thinking Elijah would come and rescue Jesus from the cross.

There are, again, at least two people in this crowd, Mary Magdalene and Veronica get it. We are told that Simon of Cyrene converted as he assisted Our Lord. But so few get it and just go along.

The Apostles

Where are they? Only John is there, and he stands next to the Blessed Mother. Neither of them tell Our Lord how to be God. They just be with Him and watch Him be God.

The Criminals

We get two criminals. One mocks Our Lord and tells him how to be God and what to do. He followed the crowd. The other, Dismas, recognizes Our Lord and speaks truth, contrary to the crowd and even the other criminal, “We deserve our punishment, but He has done nothing wrong. Remember me, O Lord”

Of all the things said in the Passion, only Dismas and Longinus get it right.

Our Lady gets it right, but we do not have an account of anything said by her — only that she stayed with Our Lord through it all and watched Him be God.

There’s a lesson for us in this mess: crowds and popular opinion are dangerous — be still like Our Lady and watch Our Lord be God. If you must speak, take after Dismas and Longinus.

This article, Palm Sunday: Being Popular is Stupid (and Dangerous) is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.

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