Why did the crowd turn on Jesus?

Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua Italy, c. 1305

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!” We know how the rest of the story goes. Jesus—acclaimed as the one who is to save his people—enters Jerusalem to a crowd’s cry of praise. A few days later, the crowd cries “Crucify him!” The one who was to save his people was—only a few days later—led to his humiliating execution, an excruciating punishment reserved for the seditious political enemies of the Roman Empire.

Why did the crowd turn on Jesus?

Sure, it might not have been a real “crowd” in either case—at least not by today’s standards. Sure, we might want to say that the crowd numbered of different people. Perhaps the people who had cried, “Hosanna!” simply weren’t around a few days later. Perhaps they stayed home. Perhaps they stayed silent. But in any case, the Gospels tell us that Jesus died abandoned by the people who were quick to praise him. He was abandoned, too, by those who had been his closest friends and followers during his public ministry: by Peter (who’d said he was prepared to die for Jesus [Lk 22:33]); by Judas (who, Shusaku Endo notes, could not have been so close to Jesus for so long without some genuine faith, hope, and love); by the rest of his apostles.

Endo speculates it was during the intervening days—the days between “Hosanna!” and “Crucify!”—that Jesus offered the Beatitudes to the crowd (or, if not the Beatitudes, words similar to similar effect):

 Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are the meek

Blessed are they who mourn

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the pure of heart

Blessed are the peacemakers

Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake

 These words offered to the crowds a very different picture of God’s power than what they expected—a very different picture of God’s power than what they wanted. The crowd turned on Jesus, Endo ventures, because he did not live up to their expectations. He did not demand their notion of justice. He did not reveal their image of God.

Jesus came to proclaim the God whose power is revealed to be something very different from what we might expect. Whatever we might mean when we call God all-powerful, it now has to be rooted in the one who loved the sinners no matter what happened to him.

It is because of this shift that I am grateful that I have a crucifix in each of my classrooms. I find myself—often—looking at it as a reminder to myself. I find myself—often—reminding my students that whatever we might want to say about God’s power, it must be rooted in poverty, meekness, mourning, justice, mercy, love, and peace. And we must remember how often—far too often—we abandon Jesus (in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned) for reasons much less threatening than the risk of our lives and for so much less than thirty pieces of silver.

The one who Jesus reveals sees “in terms so different from ours.” And so, this Holy Week, we pray that our vision might be turned from our image of God converted to see, ever more, through the eyes of God.

Andrew Staron is an assistant professor of theology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia.