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Lectionary Living

The Washington Nationals and a Palm Sunday Crowd

(3/28) Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29  •  Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16

    My one experience at a sort-of-Palm Sunday event came in the fall of 2019. The Washington Nationals had just won the world series. The somewhat impromptu parade -  starting at the Washington Monument and ending at the foot of the Capitol on the northwest corner, was unusual for DC. These things are usually planned, way ahead. But the superstitions of baseball would not allow for any pre-planning! So the word came out, like a day or two before, that there would be a parade. It was a gorgeous day. There was no time for making fancy signs or otherwise getting organized. A lot of us dedicated fans just showed up.

    The parade itself was pretty casual. The players were coming by on flatbed trailers, several to a truck. We yelled and screamed their names, and they were close enough to respond to the crowd as individuals. Every once in a while, someone would start up a cheer and we'd all - or almost all - add our voices to it, unthinkingly, really. If someone had said 'the sky is green,' I might have repeated it several times before realizing it was nonsense. It was all in good fun.

    And then someone started a cheer about the Nats winning the world series again in 2020. The players in front of us just looked at us. And then they looked at each other, shook their heads no, no way, and laughed. They knew how hard it had been. They knew what had gone into it. They knew the strange combination of circumstances which had propelled them from struggling in last place to barely making the playoffs to becoming world champions. And they also knew, right then, that the crowd did not understand. The crowd had failed to get it.

    Sometimes, joining into the crowd mentality can be relatively harmless, as it was that day. It was fun, no more, no less. Other times, joining into the crowd mentality has risks. A person can lose her thinking brain, unable to see the reality of the situation. Going along with the group, one can support people and ideas without really understanding them. Then, a friendly crowd can become a dangerous mob, as reflected a little later in Mark (15:13) when a crowd shouts "crucify him" to Pilate.

    The crowd laying down palms in front of the donkey carrying Jesus - what were they thinking? From the language they used – the Hosannas – it seems that they were welcoming their leader. Like goofy baseball fans though, they had not really thought it through. Acting like children, they had all agreed to pin their hopes for a bright and happy future on this one man.

    The human need to agree is a powerful force: to go with the flow, to enjoy the comfort of imagining that 'we' are all thinking and feeling the same way. While it can make us less anxious for a while, it can also lead to immaturity, to a giving up of self for the chance to be a part of the group. Each person can begin to lose agency, expecting somehow that the group or perhaps some leader will emerge to take responsibility for them. The immaturity itself can be as contagious as covid, spreading across a community quickly.

    The Nats baseball players quickly tamped down the expectation of another World Series bid in 2020.  Jesus, who had spent his life clarifying what he was here to do and not do, summed up his response to the crowd a few days later on a cross. Each of us has the same option: go with the crowd or remain connected to others while seeing reality and choosing one's own way. Seeing what's real can be part of the challenge. A crowd or at least a few others who are unafraid to disagree or add new thoughts matters. Getting a broader perspective is useful. Understanding the game, appreciating its beauty and nuances, allows one to live more fully.


Morning: Where could I use a broader perspective?

Evening: When did I notice myself feeling pressured to agree?

Psalm 118:19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.

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