In a sermon delivered at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, Tennessee, Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas turns his attention to the dangerous seduction of crowds:
It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of an admiring public. Anyone so admired cannot help-but be tempted, and even seduced by the terms of admiration. They may even begin to believe, in spite of the appropriate public expression of humility, that they deserve the admiration.
Unable to distinguish who they are from the crowds admiration, they soon discover they have become dependent on the expectations of their admirers. They also discover, however that those expectations continue to increase: demands that must be met if they are to continue receiving the attention they now cannot live without. Fearing the loss of the crowds regard, the ones so admired – find themselves in a no-win game with no end in sight.
Depending on Crowds
Jesus refused to depend upon crowds for the obvious reason that He knew them to be undependable. There is nothing in all this to suggest any snobbishness or any failure to appreciate the importance of each single individual among the five thousand. Instead, the meaning is the simple one that mere mass movements do not usually make any permanent impression.
The permanent impression, if it comes, has to come in some other way. Christ’s reason for turning away from the crowds was not any lack of love for persons, but an intense concern for a cause. We have good evidence that Christ loved the people in the crowds and had deep sympathy for them. This is suggested by the sentence, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He was so touched by their pain and confusion that it must have been difficult to turn from them, again and again, in order to pray alone or to instruct the inner group.
Elton Trueblood, “The Problem of the Crowd,” in The Yoke of Christ and Other Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958)
He is Coming: A Triumphal Entry
Just under 80 years ago, a crowd gathered on a humid August day to commence what was to be an unparalleled event for its time. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, police officers, and soldiers gathered for an event so spectacular, so colossal, it almost seemed to come out of a fairy tale rather than real life. Some six continents and 49 countries were represented, with most guests, especially the athletes wearing clothing with their own home flag represented, either on their person, or as they waved their flag for the crowd to see.
But the most obvious flag, the most conspicuous flag that day, was by far, the Swastika. It was draped anywhere and everywhere there was room. For this was the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. And while most of the athletes were present, the main attraction that day was not the athletes who would compete for medals, but the one who would preside over them, Adolf Hitler.
At 3:18 p.m., according to the author Daniel James Brown, “Adolf Hitler left the chancellery in central Berlin, standing upright in his Mercedes limousine, his right arm lifted in the Nazi salute. Tens of thousands of Hitler Youth, storm troopers, and helmeted military guards lined his route from the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten and out to the Reichssportfeld. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary German citizens had massed along the way, leaning from windows and waving flags or standing twelve or more deep along the street, again using periscopes to get a glimpse of Hitler.
Now, as his limousine passed, they extended their right arms in the Nazi salute, their faces upturned, ecstatic, screaming in pulsing waves as he rode by, “Heil! Heil! Heil!” At the Maifeld, where the U.S. Olympic team members stood, the athletes began to hear the distant sound of crowds cheering, the noise slowly swelling and growing nearer, then loudspeakers blaring, “He is coming! He is coming”. “He is coming! He is Coming!” Chilling words aren’t they?
And I would argue not just because we know what leadership under Hitler would bring to the modern world, but also, the messianic overtones that we hear in the shouts of Hail! And He is coming. I could not help but compare this scene to the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday…the day Jesus entered into the Holy City, not standing on a Mercedes, or even the ancient world’s equivalent, the chariot, but rather he came on a donkey.
Stuart Strachan Jr. Sermon: “Witnessing to the Light”, June 2015. Source Material from Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Penguin Books, 2014.
Social Media and the Crowd
Social media may appear to empower individual voices, but it’s really the crowd’s mass attention or indifference that determines which voices are seen, heard or ignored. The age of spectacles is the age of the crowd. The crowd gets what the crow wants. If the crowd wants Barabbas, the crowd gets Barabbas. Christians can learn from Jesus’ mistrust of the crowds. And Christians can resist the popular spectacle trends.
Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, p.134. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.