On Palm Sunday, Passion Week began, marking Lent’s final days. I have struggled this season with discussions of fasting and giving, in the midst of today’s issues.
Although God told me to preach from 1 Samuel (30:21-31) this week, I hesitated. The triumphant Palm Sunday entrance in Mark (11:1-11) seemed a better choice. After reflection and research, I concluded that it was God, not the crowd, who had provided me a new vision of Palm Sunday.
In 1 Samuel (30: 1-31), David and his soldiers return after war with the Philistines to find the Amalekites had raided David’s capital city, Ziklag. David’s soldiers, angered at their loss, wanted to stone David.
A perplexed David requested that the priest, Abiathar, bring his Ephod (a device used to query God). David asked God what to do, and was told, “Pursue them, you will be successful in their rescue.” David went in pursuit, leaving fatigued and aged soldiers behind to guard supplies.
When the victorious army returned, “some wicked and worthless men” (1 Samuel 30:22) suggested excluding from the spoils those who had remained behind. David declared, “Since God had given them victory, even those who had protected the supplies had played a role and therefore should share equally in the plunder.”
The soldiers, who had earlier wanted to stone David, put David in charge of dividing the spoils. Scripture says that David’s policy was to give and to share, which became “a statute and an ordinance for Israel from that day to this (1 Samuel 30:24-25).”
Acts (3-4) provides another account of a crowd ruled by passion, able to change behavior after praying. “But they shared everything they had” Acts (4:32). In 1 Samuel and in Acts, David and Peter, both leaders, struggled with the greed of their followers. Both turned to God for direction after confronting the selfish and hateful response of crowds.
It is after Peter heals the lame man at the gate in Acts (3:1-10), that the Sanhedrin accused him of healing in the name of Jesus. The crowd, initially amazed at the healing, was later unsupportive. Ordered to stop preaching, Peter says (4:19), “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.”
Most frightening is the short time that can elapse between a crowd’s praise and its condemnation. Good people can be easily imprisoned by momentary passions. On a Palm Sunday long ago, the crowd shifted from shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!” to screaming, “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday (Mark 15:13).
There is no more glaring example of crowd behavior than that suffered by Christ.
God wants us to be set free of the evil passions of the crowd.
Modern crowds are neither constant nor reliable in their affections. Many who shouted joyously at President Barack Obama’s election 17 months ago today spout venom after the victorious enactment of health care reform. God has acted throughout U.S. history, yet many refuse to see His wisdom, and remain prisoners of their own passions.
In scripture, we see God-fearing people who recognized God as the true source of every gift. David, suffused with gratitude, shared his spoils with his neighbors and potential allies, unknowingly garnering support for his future kingship.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.