In the crowd:
We are clueless
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:7-9, New Revised Standard Version, here and following).
Crowds of people went out into the wilderness to see John. In doing so, however, they never left the city spiritually. They took it with them. They traveled in crowds.
In a crowd, we humans don’t know what we’re doing. We head into the wilderness but we don’t know why. We go to see someone who might be a prophet but we don’t know what that means.
It takes Jesus to explain to us the meaning of our own behavior.
We make strong but mistaken judgments like children
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Matthew 11:16-19).
In a crowd, we have strong opinions. But the content of these opinions constantly changes. Yesterday we ridiculed anyone not eating or drinking as wicked. Today anyone doing so is. Yet we never see this inconsistency.
But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was (Mark 5:36-40).
In a crowd, we lack discernment. A child has died? We make a commotion, we cry, we wail. What do we do when Jesus tells us she’s not dead but sleeping? Quiet down? Praise God? No, we stop being just plain noisy to start mocking him.
What does Jesus do in response? Giant distraction that we are, he has us leave. As a crowd, we aren’t open to the miracle of life. So we can’t witness it.
We are miserable
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:23-25).
In the crowd we are sick: physically, emotionally, mentally, volitionally, spiritually, and relationally. We don’t understand the meaning of Jesus but we do see he’s a big help. He busies himself curing every sort of sickness.
We lack righteous leadership
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38).
Olympian leaders use us like sheep. They keep us sheepish, regularly shear us, and finally eat us (consuming our remaining vitality).
Jesus is different. He has compassion for us. He identifies with us, wades into our midst, suffers with us, even suffers in our place and on our behalf.
(Today we continued reflecting on Jacques Ellul's The Meaning of the City [Eerdmans, pp. 124-29]. Today's biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.)
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