Jesus’ Trial, the Crowds, and Us

It doesn’t take a lot of time to recognize that our world is different than what many of us grew up with or have much familiarity with. Life is lived today in the fast lane, where it seems everything must happen in the instant. Communication is less about meeting with someone face-to-face, but done more through a text message or tweet. Also, we are long past the days where opening the doors on Sunday mornings meant large numbers of people would want to come or feel the need to worship.

Much has changed in the world with many of these changes taking place over the last 10 years. These changes provide challenges to our church and our mission to make disciples in the name of Jesus Christ. At the same time, I believe these changes has led to the most exciting time to be in the church or in ministry. We can no longer sit back and expect people to come to us. We must go to them.

One of the things that excites me about ministry today is the abundance of narratives that are prevalent today. We are recognizing that there are many voices in our world and these voices need to be heard. Where in previous times we might have only heard from a select or influential few, we now see the worth and importance of having a diverse set of narratives and what these narratives bring to our discussions. I think this allows us to see God in a deeper way and to reflect on the love of Jesus Christ in ways that are relevant, truthful, and meaningful to all.

That there are multiple narratives in our culture helps us to think about this passage from Mark 15:1-15. This is Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ trial before the Roman authorities and, specifically, Pontius Pilate and his death sentence. There are at least six narratives at play here. First, there is Jesus who patiently awaits the verdict and all but ignores Pilate’s questions. Of course, we have Pilate and his role as the one presiding over this trial. We also have the high priests who deliver false charges against Jesus in order to have Pilate condemn him to death. There is Barabbas who was awaiting death for leading a revolution, but is pardoned when the crowd choses him over Jesus. Speaking of which, this brings to mind another narrative that consists of the crowd’s reaction to Jesus, Pilate, and this trial. Finally, there is our narrative and how we respond to what takes place.

Six narratives, with various stories and backgrounds, which all come together at this crucial moment in Jesus’ final 24 hours. Traditionally, it has been common place to focus on the general theme that these combined narratives offer. That is the fact this moment leads to Jesus’ condemnation and eventual. However, I wonder what if we turn our attention toward the group that, I believe, we can most identify ourselves with? That is the crowd. I think doing so allows us to ask how we would have responded to the trial and how we have responded to Jesus’ love.

We find ourselves, this morning, with the crowd after Jesus has been tried by the high priests and religious leaders. If you remember, Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and was led to face trial by those who accused him of being a “blasphemer” and pretender. The trial was filled with misinformation and false charges all with the intent to end Jesus’ ministry.

After this trial, Mark says, the high priests and members of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling religious body of the time, got together to determine what to do with Jesus. They wanted to execute him, but they did not have the authority and the fact it was the day of the Passover would not allow them to. They decided to take Jesus to the Roman authorities and have Pilate examine him.

It was only a short walk from where Jesus was being held and the Pilate’s military headquarters. Pilate was the military leader of Judea and a ruthless individual who was no friend of the Jewish people. History records that Pilate brought in images of Caesar into the temple, took money from the Temple to pay for the aqueducts, and killed those who rebelled against Rome and his authority. He was no friend of the people.

Pilate’s questioning of Jesus took place in an open space, likely a courtyard, where it could have been seen by others. It was very early in the morning, likely around 7 a.m., when the trial began. A crowd forms to hear Pilate’s questioning, the charges brought forth by the high priests, and Jesus’ near non response to the accusations. The crowd likely was told by some of the religious leaders what was going on and wanted to experience it. At the same time, this crowd is synonymous with other crowds that were around Jesus on this day and during the Passover week.

Initially, there was the crowd that greeted Jesus as he arrived in Jerusalem on the day we refer to as Palm or Passion Sunday. The day Jesus entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and to give himself over to his death on the cross. It was a crowd made up of residents of Jerusalem and those who made the pilgrimage to the holy city. The crowd, that day, shouted with glee the words “Hosanna, Hosanna,” hopeful that this Jesus of Nazareth would be the one to restore the David’s kingdom. They wanted Jesus to be king.

Then, we have the crowd gathered around Pilate’s headquarters to witness the trial. There is a temptation to view this crowd being all of Jerusalem. I’m not sure. When we have seen adaptations of this moment, it is often with thousands upon thousands of people gathered around Pilate and his headquarters shouting, “Crucify him!” However, it is likely Pilate’s courtyard would not have been able to hold a large crowd. It is more possible that this crowd was smaller in nature, maybe only a few hundred, who had been influenced by the high priests to demand Jesus’ conviction and the release of the insurrectionist Barabbas.

Another crowd present in this scene is one that is not there. It is the group of people that were not around Pilate’s headquarters that day. A crowd of people who were in their homes likely getting ready for the Passover. They saw no need to be at Pilate’s place for this trial. These were people who wrestled who Jesus is. Some believed he is the Messiah, while others were not sure who they were. It is fair to believe that there were many who supported Jesus in Jerusalem, because of the timing of Jesus’ arrest and how quickly things progressed. Yet, on this morning they were not to be found at the Trial.

Each of these crowds came together in this moment where Pilate is pressed to defend the Roman peace – pax Romana – and prevent a revolution. The sad thing is what holds these three groups together is that they responded to Jesus based on their own self interests and not a desire to see Jesus as he truly is. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, there was a contingent of people gathered who wanted to see Jesus the leader of a military revolution. They were disappointed when Jesus’ revolution was more about self-sacrifice than military strength. The crowd gathered at Pilate’s trial wanted the status quo to be maintained. They didn’t want Jesus or his teachings. What they wanted was for everything to stay the same. Finally, the group that stayed home responded to Jesus with a response that said there were more important things to their life than their faith in God. Family or other responsibilities took precedence over going with Jesus and claiming their faith in him at this moment.

Each of these three crowds struggled with their interactions with Jesus and are gathered together in the response of the crowd at Pilate’s headquarters as they shout, “Crucify him!” Their desires and wants shouted out for Jesus to be crucified when Jesus did not meet their expectations. It wasn’t just Pilate and the religious who crucified Jesus, but it was also the crowd.

And, it is also us. See, we are also represented in the crowd gathered at Pilate’s headquarters. We have been members of these crowds. We’ve been disappointed when Jesus didn’t meet our own expectations. There’s been times when we’ve allowed the status quo to define our faith and witness of Jesus’ love. As well, there have been moments when we’ve wanted nothing more than to not get involved in our faith and just wanting to be left alone rather than get our hands dirty. Our responses to Jesus often echos the chorus of anger and frustrations heard through the loud chant of “Crucify him!” Often by the words we say, the words we do not say, the things we do, and the things we do not do, we say this isn’t the lord we want.

All of us are represented in the crowd. Jesus’ trial isn’t so much about him being unfairly condemned, as it was about our participation in his condemnation by doing things that are counter to Jesus’ love. This passage asks us to look inside our heart to see who we are among these crowds. Are we among those upset Jesus doesn’t reflect our own hopes and desires? Are we simply satisfied with the status quo and not wanting anything to change about ourselves, our ministries, or our communities? Or, are we like those who are too busy with our own lives to join Christ where he would desire us to go? No matter what crowd we are or have belonged to, the grace of Jesus Christ offers us a new way forward filled with grace to be defined not by the will of the crowd, but the hopes of Christ.

In a moment, we will share in a time of communion. This meal reminds us of the grace of God and the life living power of Jesus Christ that comes to us when we decide to live not by the desires of the crowds but, instead, by the desires of our Lord. It is a meal that calls us to be transformed and to live in new and holy ways. To live not by the crowds, but to live by Christ.

On this early morning, as the sun was beginning to rise over the Jerusalem skyline, Jesus was condemned to face his death. He died for us, even while we were shouting “Crucify him!,” with the crowds that day. That is how awesome our God truly is. Even when we were saying we wanted to be with the crowds that day, Jesus was saying he wanted to be with us.

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