Paul Baglyos, St. Paul, MN
Was Jesus the victim of mob violence?
Sometimes, when people act together in groups they multiply the effective force of their courage, their principles, and their resolve. Individuals acting together in groups have the capacity to become a movement able to realize higher aspirations of the human heart and mind. At other times, however, when people act together in groups, they multiply the effective force of their fears, their prejudices and their resentment. Protected within the relative anonymity of the group, individuals can become a mob capable of acting out the lower impulses of the human heart and mind.
An ABC news story of recent violence at rallies in response to policies of President Trump illustrates the fact that group behavior often becomes mob behavior, regardless of the “side” the group represents. The story noted that violence was committed by members of both groups, the supporters and protesters alike. When people regard one another merely as representatives of an opposing side in some conflict, they surrender the capacity to engage one another as human beings with value and dignity and voice and story.
Contrast that ABC news story about violence at political rallies with the News One story about the efforts of some senators to try to heal racial divisions by agreeing to meet in table fellowship over a meal. Whether or not those efforts can effectively help to heal racism, the fact remains that when people sincerely start to know each other as people it becomes increasingly difficult for them to regard each other as merely representatives of some “other” group. Certainly, sharing a meal with someone does not guarantee that unity and harmony will emerge in place of previous divisions or disagreements, but the investment of time and effort that people make in truly knowing one another can transform their lives.
If you have access to a computer in your class, look at this picture of an orthodox priest during a protest in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2014. The foreground of the photograph shows two people encountering one another in a moment of interpersonal fellowship, while the background of the photograph shows the presence of a larger group.
- What do you imagine the kneeling man is seeking or requesting? What do you imagine the priest is offering or bestowing? What do you imagine each of them is thinking and feeling? Do you think the larger crowd notices what is going on between the priest and the kneeling man? What would you think if you were part of the larger crowd and noticed the man kneeling before the priest?
- Discuss the two stories from ABC and News One. Imagine that some of the Trump supporters and some of the Trump protesters were persuaded to share an occasion of table fellowship over a meal together. What might be said or done to encourage conversation in place of conflict, and understanding in place of violence? How do the two opposing groups in the ABC news story inhibit their capacity to see each other (or to be seen by each other) as human beings with value and dignity and voice and story?
Sunday of the Passion
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Matthew’s account of the Passion of Jesus is simultaneously a story about group behavior and about interpersonal fellowship. On the one hand, the story is propelled forward by the insistent clamor of the crowd demanding Jesus’ crucifixion. On the other hand, the actions of the crowd repeatedly place various individuals in situations of interpersonal fellowship with Jesus.
Consider Pilate, the Roman governor responsible for administrating Roman imperial rule in and around Jerusalem. Matthew never suggests that Pilate was moved to faith by his encounter with Jesus, but he and Jesus nevertheless share a significant occasion of interpersonal fellowship when they are forced together by the demands of the crowd. Clearly Pilate is troubled in conscience by the crowd’s insistence that he order the execution of Jesus, a man whom he finds to be innocent. We are left to wonder how Pilate’s life might have been changed by his encounter with Jesus.
Matthew tells us even less about Simon of Cyrene, the passer-by who was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross to the place of crucifixion. Whether Simon was chosen entirely at random or for some particular reason, he came to share intimately in the Passion of Jesus that day, and it is reasonable to imagine that the experience had a profound and lasting impact on his life.
The most explicit indication of personal transformation occurs in Matthew’s mention of the centurion (a Roman military officer) who stood near the cross of Jesus; Matthew tells us that the centurion was moved by what he had witnessed to confess with others, “Truly this man was God’s Son” – an indication of personal faith.
Matthew’s account makes it clear that the ministry of Jesus does not stop when he is arrested and bound. Instead, all along the way to his crucifixion Jesus continues to do what he has always done – moving people to amazement and wonder, providing occasions to walk with him in his way of the cross, and prompting faith’s perception that his ministry is the ministry of God. The crowd that clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion wanted to end Jesus’ ministry of transforming lives; instead, their actions resulted in the continuation and extension of that ministry.
The crowd behaved like a mob, but the actions of the crowd also carried forward the ministry of Jesus. However unintentionally, however unwittingly, the insistence of the crowd demanding Jesus’ crucifixion became part of the movement by which people were brought to fellowship with Jesus. While the crowd eventually got what it demanded – the death of Jesus – God’s ministry of transforming lives was nevertheless unfolding, even within the clamor and conflict of mob behavior.
- Which person or people in Matthew’s account of the Passion of Jesus do you find to be the most interesting and fascinating? Why?
- With which person in the story do you identify most closely? Why?
- What about the centurion’s experience do you think moved him to confess Jesus as God’s Son?
- How do you experience interpersonal fellowship with Jesus?
An altar or table is one of the most essential furnishings of Christian worship, for it is upon that altar or table that the bread and wine of Holy Communion are prepared as the Lord’s Supper with and for the people. In Holy Communion, the people are invited to table fellowship with Jesus so that they might grow closely together. Jesus endured his Passion so that he might enter into fellowship with all people, in all times, places, and circumstances. In this way, his cross becomes the primary “table” for interpersonal fellowship with people.
Go into the worship space where your congregation worships, and also into the space where the items and appointments used in Holy Communion are stored. What associations do you see between Holy Communion and the cross? In what ways is Holy Communion related to the cross in your congregation’s worship?
O God, our life, our strength, our food, we give you thanks for sustaining us with the body and blood of your Son. By your Holy Spirit, enliven us to be his body in the world, that more and more we will give you praise and serve your earth and its many peoples, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
— Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 65