Lead, Follow, or Get out of the Way?

palm sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

Herd mentality works two ways.

On the one hand, it can have a positive effect, something like positive peer pressure.

Take the stock market. Does it rise and fall based on supply and demand, as your economics professor told you? Or is it really more based on emotion and herd mentality? It’s really more that when the people at large, the “herd,” feel the economy is hunky-dory, that’s when the stock market goes up.

And, for a lot of people anyway, this is seen as a good thing.

But it can also go the other way, can’t it? When there is fear about the economy, especially fear about the near-future of the economy, the stock market plummets. The herd mentality has a negative effect.

Daniel Howard, a marketing professor at SMU, puts it this way: “Stock market bubbles and crashes are caused by herd mentality. It’s scary to me because we make our own heaven, and we make our own hell” (quoted from http://listverse.com/2013/07/28/top-10-instances-of-mob-mentality/ ).

Other examples of herd mentality worth mentioning are the Salem Witch Trials, the French Revolution, and the Holocaust; or, closer to home, Burning Man, professional sports contests, and the internet.

Some of these examples demonstrate terrible wrongs; others are more positive. But the gist is that in each case there is something about the herd, something about mob mentality, that causes people to do things they would never do on their own, as individuals.

And so we come to today’s Gospel.

Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. Somehow word has leaked out that here is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. Could he be the Messiah?

Word spreads in the gathering crowd. He’s riding on a donkey with her colt. Didn’t the prophet Zechariah say something about this? Could he be the Messiah?

By now the crowd is large. Then the actions start. Somewhere in the midst of all the people someone lays a branch on the ground in front of Jesus. Then someone else does it. Someone else lays a cloak on the ground. And before you know it seemingly everyone is doing it.

And such a clamor! Everyone is making noise, noise that comes together in a din, nothing very defined. Until, ringing out distinctly above it all, a word is heard, a prayer. Others join in. Finally, in unison, like a great choir, all around Jesus the crowd is shouting, “Hosanna!”

Hosanna! Save us, we pray! (for that is its translation).

Save us, son of David, from the oppressive hand of the Roman rulers!

Save us from our sin, Jesus, you who come in the name of the Lord!

Save us to the highest heaven, superlatively, to the greatest possible amount that we can be saved!

Save us as only God himself is able to save!

And so we see the positive effects of herd mentality.

But what’s coming?

We know the story all too well, don’t we? Jesus enters Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!” But the religious leaders want him dead.

It’s not just the Roman leaders here who think Jesus is a threat to the establishment. It’s also the Jewish religious leaders.

For many years the Jewish people have been under foreign rule. Uprisings have been attempted—even uprisings that were thought to be messianic. But now, at this time in history, the religious leaders have it pretty well. They are the “who’s who” in the city of Jerusalem. The Roman overlords give these religious leaders quite a lot of liberty. These religious leaders have grown accustomed to the respect shown them. And so on.

But now this upstart, this so-called prophet, this Jesus of Nazareth, is causing a stir. Not good, as far as the religious leaders are concerned. Not good, to the point that they want him out of the way—to the point that they want him dead! Yes, he’s that much of a threat!

And so they’ve convinced one of his close followers to see things their way—with thirty pieces of silver! And we come to the last supper, and to that anxiety-ridden night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Judas hands Jesus over to the authorities.

Jesus is then tried and found guilty on trumped up charges. Pilate, the Roman leader in charge of the trial, craters to the pressure of the crowd. Instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, the crowd shouts, again and again, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

And so we see the negative effects of herd mentality.

But here’s the worst part: this is by and large the same crowd that was shouting Hosanna just a few days ago. Just a few days ago it was, “Lord, save us!” Now it’s, “Crucify him!”

We humans are fickle.

There are times we feel like nothing can come between me and Jesus. He has redeemed me; he is saving me from all my sin and wickedness; and he will lead me into glory. I know this in the bottom of my heart, down to the core of my being. And nothing’s gonna shake me. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!

But you know how it is. Life sneaks in a sucker punch. We don’t see it coming; we might not even feel it when it’s delivered. But all of a sudden the wind is knocked out of us. All of a sudden, we have questions, doubts, quandaries. And we begin to think, Maybe I’m not so sure about my faith after all. Maybe Jesus was just a man, that this story I’ve heard all my life, that this faith I practice, is just a complex Santa Claus story. I don’t know. Maybe the crowd’s right after all. Maybe I should just give up, forget this emotional wave I’ve been surfing. Maybe I should just give in and yell “Crucify him!” with everyone else.

So then, what are you going to do?

Have you heard the phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”? There are times to lead, certainly. And there are times to follow. But when it comes to herd mentality—fashions, trends, hype, hoopla, buzz, fads, anything that persuades you to act in a way that you would not act in your own right mind—sometimes it’s best just to get out of the way.

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