Too Crowded by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
“He who serves the public serves a fickle master.” Thus does an old proverb teach us, and not without reason.
As we all learn eventually, the crowd is fickle. Its hero one moment becomes its villain the next. And vice versa. The crowd first applauds Brutus, and moments later follows Mark Antony just as enthusiastically. In fact, our word “mob” comes from the Latin phrase “mobile vulgus” – meaning, “the movable or easily swayed people.”
Our Lord knew the mercurial nature of the crowd. St. John tells us that when Jesus “was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.” (Jn 2:23) Nevertheless, “Jesus would not trust Himself to them because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well.” (Jn 2:24-25)
He would not trust Himself to them because He knew that no matter how well intentioned its response, the crowd remained superficial and erratic. He understood perfectly the weakness of fallen human nature, that despite our best intentions we remain prone to inconstancy and betrayal.
Perhaps some in the crowd did in fact have a genuine and lasting faith in Him. But, given the nature of a crowd, the vast majority probably came to Him for less noble, less enduring reasons.
Perhaps they simply liked the entertainment value of His miracles or of His sparring with the religious authorities. Maybe they saw Him as a political reformer who would throw off the Roman yoke. And, as with any crowd, some were probably just curious, tagging along because they had some free time. He does not trust Himself to them because they neither understood Him nor believed in Him for the right reasons.
Eventually Our Lord does entrust Himself to the crowd. And at His trials – first before the Sanhedrin and then before Pilate – the crowd shows its inconstancy. It turns on Him, showing Him contempt and clamoring for His death. The reaction of the crowd at that time vindicates the wisdom of His prior distrust. The same people who greeted Him with “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday cried out “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday.
Our Lord’s distrust of the crowd serves as a warning because we often display the mob’s same inconstancy. We run to the Lord when we need something, but forget Him as soon as the need disappears. When the economy is in the tank or our marriage is on the rocks or our children are in trouble, then we run swiftly to Him. But we just as swiftly forget Him when things are back in order.
The crowd applauded Our Lord as He worked miracles but disdained Him upon the Cross. We likewise want Mass and homilies to entertain, but lose patience with the discipline and sacrifice the Church asks of us.
At that Passover centuries ago, Our Lord did not entrust Himself to the people. But now He does entrust Himself to us. In baptism, He entrusted His life to us by placing His grace in our souls. In holy Communion, He entrusts to us His very body, blood, soul and divinity.
May our response be more faithful and constant than that of the crowds in Jerusalem. May the Lord Himself make us constant in our devotion.