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Palm Sunday: Commitment vs. Crowd Mentality

Fr. Luke Veronis

It’s easy to join a crowd and go along with the masses. And we often see how easy it is to get hyped up with mass hysteria. Yet to make a commitment is something quite different. To commit to following a path, despite what the majority say or do, is quite a challenge.

Following the crowd or following a serious commitment. Two completely different things.

I remember when I faced a cross road of faith in my own life. It happened when I was a college student at Penn State.  As a university student, it was so easy to go along with the crowd, to do what everyone else was doing. Even if I didn’t initially believe what others believed, or felt comfortable with things they did, it was so easy to go along with the crowd, because “everyone” was doing it. Yet in the midst of that “crowd” mentality, I had a friend who was a serious Christian. She was committed to living a particular Christ-centered lifestyle, and she wouldn’t go along with the crowd. Sure, she would hang out with us, but she chose her own path because she felt a commitment to following Jesus Christ.

I often saw a sharp contrast between the crowd and the committed individual. Eventually, I learned that an authentic Christian faith implies a certain lifestyle, a radical way of life where we strive to commit our entire selves in a holistic way to our Lord and His teachings. A serious Christian will not accept to follow the crowd when the crowd goes against what one believes. The serious Christian will not change faces with each crowd.

Our Lord Jesus Christ challenges us to walk as He walked, to talk as He talked, to live as He lived, and to radiate His spirit of love and mercy in every circle of society. Not to go along with the crowd, but to be His light in the crowd.

Following the crowd or following a serious commitment. Two completely different things.

We can see clearly this dichotomy between the crowd mentality verses the serious commitment in today’s feast of Palm Sunday. Jesus triumphantly enters with His disciples into Jerusalem as a heralded king, the long-awaited Messiah, the Christ whom the prophets of old talked about. Crowds of people rallied in fervor to welcome Jesus into the holy city, and many hoped and believed that He would be crowned the new King of Israel. People adoringly waved palm branches as a sign of victory, while children yelled the prophetic words, “Hosanna to God in the highest.” The people believed and hoped that a new King David had arrived, a military commander ready to throw off the Roman oppression.

The people proclaimed impressive words, but what significance did these expressions hold for those who yelled them? It’s so easy for people to offer words of love and praise, yet quite different to follow through with actions of commitment and dedication. Jesus had clearly said earlier in his ministry that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter into the kingdom. Words are cheap, and crowds are easy to throw around words. Yet, as we know, less than a week passes before the chants of the crowds change from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Why did many people change their praises of adoration to cries of anger and hatred? Why did the fickleness of the crowd change from welcoming a king to condemning a criminal? What had Jesus done to deserve this reversal of fortune?

Was it that Jesus scandalized His followers by precisely living out what he had been preaching all along – a message that people didn’t want to hear. Christ warned his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, they must deny themselves and take up their cross.” He cautioned His friends, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you.” He even forewarned His followers, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And Jesus summarized his teachings by saying, “Those who love their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my name’s sake, will save it.”

The crowds don’t want to hear such words of radical commitment and absolute dedication. They don’t want to accept teachings on humility, self-sacrifice and self-denial. The idea of giving up your life in order to live was something unacceptable to most. Thus, the crowds which cheered Jesus on Palm Sunday become silent and even derogatory as the week went on. The people didn’t want to live out His vision of self-sacrificial love, so they rejected not only His example, but His very person!

In modern terms, what does this say to us? We who call ourselves Orthodox Christians and crowd the churches from Palm Sunday through Holy Week to the Resurrection Service on Easter Night, what concrete commitment are we ready to make to Christ in our daily lives? Will we compartmentalize our faith to certain times of the year, or to particular moments in our life, or will we allow the Gospel to form our worldview and guide us each and every day in our lives? Will we show piety now, only to ignore our faith’s calling in other areas of our lives? If we are singing “Hosanna to God in the highest” on Palm Sunday, we need to be careful not to reject Him when Jesus challenges us to live out our faith in its fullness - when he calls us to love one another, even to love our enemies; when He commands us to forgive the other even up to 70 x 7; when He directs us to become humble servants of one another; when He asks us to live up to being ambassadors of His love to all people everywhere; when He dares us to fulfill our potential, a daring potential which leads to sainthood. When he asks all of this, how will we respond?

This calling of faith is a risky path in life. In the world’s eyes, it may seem like crazy fanaticism. In St. Paul’s day and age, people called it foolishness. In every age, it is a call that goes against our egocentric ways. Yet for those of us who dare to follow this path of sanctity, we will discover that in an authentic commitment to Christ comes a deep fulfillment of life. With a radical dedication to our Lord comes meaning and purpose. In sacrificial service for one another, comes ultimate and unconditional love richly abiding in our hearts!

Following the crowd or following a serious commitment. Two completely different things.

The radical commitment of the few or the fickleness of the masses. Palm Sunday leaves us much to think about!