the fickle crowds of holy week
An often used imagery for preachers in preaching during Holy Week is to look at the crowd on Palm Sunday greeting Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” and the crowds on Friday calling for his death and to use this to point out the fickleness of the human condition.
While this is a great “that’ll preach!” illustration, it tends not to be in any way rooted in what would have been the context in which it happens.
When Jesus is being hailed as a king by his fellow pilgrims on their way into Jerusalem, this would have been the folks from the north, in the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee. This is notable for a couple reasons. First, this area would be significantly different than Jerusalem because of both its political and in some ways theological experience. The Zealot movement, those who believed that to worship God meant to take back the kingdom by any violent force necessary, was rooted in this area. As well it was a strong area for the Pharisee approach to worship. While the Pharisees and Zealots would have been a strong contingent in the north, this would not have reflected nearly as much in Jerusalem.
While certainly the Pharisees and Zealots would have had influence in Jerusalem, there would have also been a much strong contingent of those who were much more comfortable being in cooperation with the Romans - namely the Sadducees. The Sadducees tended to be a little bit higher class and also were involved in the management of the temple. Without getting further into the highlights of this, my point is to show that there would have been more of a contingent for keeping the peace with the Romans within Jerusalem than there would have been in the area of the Sea of Galilee.
So when you see one group hailing Jesus as a political and militaristic deliverer and another group denouncing him and saying they have no king but Caesar, we are talking about a flip in a week that would be similar to a birther going from demanding to see President Obama’s birth certificate to defending the President at a Tea Party rally in less than a week. Most likely, we are looking at two different crowds - the first being a primarily rural crowd that was more ready to overthrow the Romans and a primarily urban crowd that had a lot more stake in the Roman reaction to someone claiming to be King. This leads to the stronger likelihood that these crowds are not the same people but rather different groups. In either sense, both of these crowds miss something in the work of Jesus, but have some very divergent reactions in how they are handling Jesus’ claims about himself.