Palm Sunday: Jesus, Power and Mob Mentality (Luke 19.28-40)


Lectionary this week: Palm Sunday

As we approach Holy Week, the lectionary readings become more and more familiar. We know the story in this week’s gospel passage. Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem. The people welcome him as a king. And in less than a week, the crowds — drunk on a mob mentality — clamor to see him crucified.

As you read this week’s passage, consider the voices of the Pharisees and the crowd. What do they tell you about Jesus, power and mob mentality?

The passage: Luke 19.28-40 (NRSV)

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

29 When he had come near Bethpage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Power and the mob mentality

Wherever Jesus went, he drew a crowd with a message of change. Lacking political power or wealth, he offered something better to people from every social strata. But his power was different than Rome’s military empire or the Pharisee’s temple system. Jesus operated outside of and against the power systems that oppressed the people.

In Luke’s gospel, we see that the people loved Jesus because he gave them hope for a better life. The mob mentality when Jesus entered Jerusalem was one of support and high praise. Jesus had won their hearts and itt threatened the Pharisees’ power and control.

We don’t see it yet in this passage, but we get a glimpse of how threatened the Pharisees felt. “Order your disciples to stop,” they said. But Jesus’ power wasn’t rooted in political rhetoric and manipulation. People loved him because of who he was and the hope that he offered. Their collective voice sang with all creation, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

So, what happened between Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the crucifixion? Within a few days, the mob that praised Jesus called for his crucifixion.

If you read just a few verses beyond this passage you will be reminded that after Jesus entered Jerusalem, he also entered the temple to drive out the vendors and money changers (Luke 19:45-46). This is the Jesus who brings change. And part of that change disrupted the economic and social order of the temple system. The powers — particularly the chief priests, scribes, and leaders — were losing money and control.

Without going into all of the political intrigue, dishonesty, and spies that are revealed in Luke 20, we can safely say that the powers of the day used those mobs to turn on Jesus. And they were successful. Using their money and influence they were able to buy off even one of Jesus’ closest followers, Judas.

As we prepare for Holy Week and reflect on Jesus and the mobs, I am reminded of how mob mentality works. We are so easily influenced by the behavior and rhetoric of the powers of our time. During this political season, it seems especially appropriate to remind ourselves to resist the mob mentality and continue to follow Jesus.


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