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April 14, 2019
[Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu]
Jump on the bandwagon! Go along with the crowd!
I recently read of a town that has had an epidemic of teen suicides, one copy-catting another and causing immeasurable suffering for the rest of the community. How many young people turn to drugs and alcohol or self-destructive sexual practices because “everybody is doing it?” I recall a person who is now very pro-life who was once very pro-abortion until he realized he was just going along with the crowd and not looking at the truth of the situation that it was a real child’s life that was at stake.
As we reflect on the Scriptures today, we see many instances of this attitude. The people of Jerusalem first welcomed Jesus as he entered the city with cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” In the speed of five days, their cry would be “Crucify him! Crucify him!” At the Last Supper, the apostles engage in a debate about which of them could be so base and vile as to betray the Lord; and within the blink of an eye, they are debating who among them is the greatest. Peter declares that he is prepared to go to prison and to die with the Lord; but within hours, when the heat gets too intense, he denies three times that he even knows him. Pilate proclaims the innocence of Jesus three times – though he throws the crowd a bone by offering to have Jesus scourged; and then he finally just goes along with the crowd and condemns Jesus to death. The soldiers charged with the crucifixion mocked him roundly; but then one of them finally jumps off that bandwagon and declares that “This man was innocent beyond doubt.”
Being part of a community is part of our nature; it is how human beings are built. We can be strengthened by our brothers and sisters who join us in worship and prayer. We can be challenged, without being threatened, when we know of their love. So it is God’s desire that we be part of a community. But it is also important that we be careful what community we affiliate with, because some will bring us life, while others will ultimately lead us to destruction. We all know that the friends we have can help us either to be virtuous or to engage in activities that are vicious and vile.
It is so easy for us to be fickle and to just go along with the crowd, not thinking of how it will ultimately affect us in this life and the next, or how it will affect other people. Yet here today we have the example of Jesus, who could not have been more connected with others in community, but who was never willing to just go along with the crowd or to accept what everyone else was thinking or doing. He set his face like flint on the truth that he knew he was, the truth that God has planted in the heart of every human being. He gave his own body and blood so that we could be in intimate communion with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He was so passionate about his love for us that no argument, no suffering, not even death could keep him from giving himself to us. He could have been more pleasing to people. He could have backed off when he offended them with the truth. He could have been nicer instead of being so insistent on the truth, and he would probably have saved himself from crucifixion. But he was not willing to jump on any bandwagon or to just go along with any crowd. He knew what was right and good from himself and for all of us, and so he remained steadfast and secure even in the face of death. It was that lack of fickleness that gives us hope and life.
Jesus’ burning gaze at Peter when his prediction of a triple denial was fulfilled stopped Peter in his tracks, and Peter’s tears took away the intense heat that made him want to jump on the bandwagon of abandonment. Jesus’ merciful words on the cross toward those who had crucified him and toward the thief who humbled himself by confessing his own sins, made a centurion jump off the bandwagon of mockery to express a faith in Jesus’ innocence.
During this Holy Week we are all called to look at Jesus, at his convicting glance, and at his merciful gaze. If we do, he will show us how to strengthen our communion with him and with the people who embrace him and the eternal life he died to bring us. He will give us the wisdom to see for what they are the bandwagons that are rolling toward destruction, and he will give us the courage either not to jump on them or to jump off as soon as we can. He is our passionate Savior, and wants us to understand that our own salvation is not to be found in the broad way that leads to destruction, but in the narrow way of taking up our crosses, so that, like him, we can rise up and be led to eternal life.