Posts Tagged ‘Mark’

How Crowds Can Be Manipulated

Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

I have to admit that this has always puzzled me. Jesus was a very well known person by this point in his ministry so why did Judas have to identify him to anyone? And why use a kiss to identify him? Since Judas came with a crowd, why not just point and say “That’s him!” It is a poetic and powerful image but I don’t get why it played out this way with Jesus. Turns out, as it usually does, that not only does it make sense, but it contains a kind of warning for us.

sheepdogIt all starts back in verse 2 and if you don’t pay attention it it, you’ll wind up like me, poor person, missing the point. “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.” Why didn’t the chief priests and the scribes just grab Jesus? Because of the crowd. Why did they have to scheme with Judas for a way to betray Jesus? Because of the crowds. And when they and Judas finally figured out how to get their hands on Jesus, who did they bring with them? “There came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.” (47)

Get it? They were afraid of the crowd and how they would respond if they saw Jesus being arrested. Their first thought was to arrest Jesus secretly, away from the crowd so that there wouldn’t be a riot. That’s why Judas was included, they needed an insider to point the way, to alert them when and where he might be alone. But that isn’t quite how it played out. It wouldn’t have necessarily prevented a riot once the people found out that the one they shouted “Hosanna” to was arrested. The people really couldn’t be excluded from this, they had to find a way to include them and it appears they did. A portion of the people came with them to arrest Jesus. Not all of them, but a big enough group to be called a crowd were somehow enticed to join in.

Now I have to speculate a bit here but I don’t think I’m going too far afield in this. The crowd knew Jesus. At least a lot of them did since they saw him ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and then spend the day terrorizing the abusers of the temple courts. That has to mean that a lot of people saw him. So I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that many of the people in the crowd who came to arrest Jesus knew who he was. At least the chief priests and officers of the temple did and they were there too according to verse 52. So here’s what I’m presuming. Judas and the authorities told the crowd that there was a troublemaker present who was going to mess up the Passover celebration. There were probably a mix of stories told in order to get the people agitated. “And you know,” you can here the schemers saying, “the Romans don’t care about our feast. They certainly won’t do anything to prevent this troubler of Israel from doing what he’s going to do. No, as Jews it is up to us to protect the feast!” They probably introduced Judas as a hero who was part of the mad man’s group who would lead them to him so they could stop him. And to make Judas look even more like a real insider, a key member of the cult, Judas would kiss the leader and when he did, the crowd should arrest him immediately. They didn’t have to say it was Jesus, they may have said that there was someone in group of the Galileans who was up to this. They didn’t know who it was but Judas did and he’d lead us to this traitor.

All of that is unsaid any any of the Gospels. It is speculation and could well be wrong, but it seems to fit with what happened after Jesus was arrested. When he was brought before the council, they were having a hard time finding an accusation that would stick because those who accused him were presenting contradictory and conflicting accusations according to Mark 14:55-56. It could be because the scribes sowed numerous false accusations in order to stir up the crowd against him. Now the peoples’ fertile minds were remembering things Jesus had said or things they thought they’d heard Jesus say and they were turning them into accusations. That’s why the final accusation that they did get to stick was what Jesus said but not what he meant. See John 2:19-21 and Matthew 26:61. And then look at what happens when Pilot wanted to release Jesus in Matthew 27. The deception and manipulation of the crowd continued: “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” I think the explanation I’ve given above fits pretty well with the fact that the leaders could persuade the crowd to ask for the release of “notorious prisoner,” murderer (Mark 15:7), and insurrectionist (Luke 18:40) like Barabbas over a thoughtful rabbi like Jesus.

Here’s how this is a warning to us. Crowds can be manipulated. It doesn’t really matter what unites the crowd: nationality, religion, a lack of religion, a shared goal, whatever. When we band together for a common cause, and human beings always do that, our leaders can manipulate us, even when they fear us, by making it seem like our common interest is threatened. And when they do this, they will aim the crowd at the target of their choice by claiming that that target is the threat. This works even if the day before the crowd was praising the target.

What makes us vulnerable to this kind of thing is the fact that we think we’re beyond it. We have the internet, education, free thinking. “We have never been slaves to anyone!” we assert. The real way we can avoid this is by being aware of the fact that we susceptible to it, by picking our leaders very carefully and then keeping a close eye on them. This applies in churches, government, families, etc. So, for example, be careful of reposting things that enrage you on Facebook without checking the source. You may be being manipulated into supporting or opposing something that isn’t so. Take care how you listen.

Looking in the Right Direction

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” – Mark 2:18-22

There are folks who will follow a leader but not listen to him. Perhaps John’s disciples loved his fire and his preaching and how he laid into the Pharisees, but not all of them listened to what he was actually saying. They listened to the preacher but not the message preached.We looked at this passage in small group last night and the group had some really great observations. The contrast here is between the fasting Christians do, or New Covenant fasting, and what came before. The first observation didn’t come from the group but something I caught later. The contrast isn’t just between Christian fasting and the fasting the Pharisees did because John the Baptist is on the other side of this equation. That’s something. The group asked why John still had disciples if Jesus had come and that’s a great question too. I think it might be related to the fact that John’s fasting was different from Jesus’. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the Old Covenant and his job was to point forward to Jesus. When Jesus came to be baptized John said that he should be baptized by Jesus. John announced “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” when he saw Jesus. John was there when God spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” And yet, when John was in prison he sent his disciples to Jesus and asked, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” John had his doubts, like we do, and that’s probably why he didn’t send his disciples after Jesus immediately. Also, there are folks who will follow a leader but not listen to him. Perhaps John’s disciples loved his fire and his preaching and how he laid into the Pharisees, but not all of them listened to what he was actually saying. They listened to the preacher but not the message preached.

So, how was John’s fasting like the Pharisees’ and not like Jesus’? The Pharisees fasting was probably all kinds of messed up. They prayed loud and long in order to get attention. They wore long robes in order to get seats of honor. They made their faces all downcast when they fasted so people would see how holy they were. But if you asked them why they fast, they’d probably have a very good reason that had nothing to do with why they really fasted. Their fast was one of anticipation. It was looking forward to the Kingdom of God coming. For them, that meant David’s son would show up and boot the dirty Romans, probably behead the compromised scribes and clean out the temple. It would mean that their party would be exalted. Messed up but looking forward. John’s was likewise looking forward, anticipating the coming of the one he was sent to herald. And like I said, John didn’t completely get it so his disciples most likely didn’t either. Christian fasting, on the other hand, looks back to the coming of the real Son of David and it looks forward to his return to take David’s throne also. John Piper put it this way in A Hunger for God:

Years ago I wrote in the margin of my Greek Testament beside Matthew 9:17 [a parallel to Mark 2], “The new fasting is based on the mystery that the bridegroom has come, not just will come. The new wine of his presence calls for new fasting.”

In other words, the yearning and longing and ache of the old fasting was not based on the glorious truth that the Messiah had come. (40)

In Jesus’ explanation talking about patches and wineskins you get the anticipation of his return as well as his passion. So Christian fasting looks back at the crucifixion as well as forward to His return. John only looked forward to his coming and the Pharisees were looking entirely in the wrong direction.

The other thing the group talked about was how Jesus’ talk about patches and wineskins applied to his talk about fasting. That may seem pretty obvious but I’ve engage in too many theological discussions where these ideas have been used and abused so they were kind of twisted in my brain. The group dove in without fear and made the observation that I recounted above. What is new is the kind of fasting. Trying to put Jesus’ fasting in the same category as John’s or the Pharisees’ is like sewing a new patch on an old garment or putting new wine in used skins. It won’t work.

And that brings up the last point, a minor one. If you pour grape juice in old wine skins there is no danger of the skins bursting. Only the fermentation process will produce enough gas to stretch new wineskins and burst old ones. The notion that Jesus only dealt with unfermented wine is nonsense and this text as well as others proves it.