Recently I've been joining my girlfriend's bible study group (I've had pretty bad luck with bible studies in the past, but so far this one hasn't been catastrophic), and a couple weeks ago we read the story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, on what we now call Palm Sunday1. The scene is this: cheering crowds, palm branches2 laid on Jesus' path, general excitement and hope that Jesus is indeed the messiah the people have been waiting for. A mere few days later, Jesus is on trial, and the crowds are shouting again, this time calling for his death. In the bible study, someone suggested this 180-degree change in attitude was shocking. I disagreed.
I disagreed because in this aspect of human behavior, we haven't changed. Take any variety of public figure - a politician, CEO, athlete, actor, public speaker, etc - and watch what happens when any accusation of scandal crosses their path (never mind whether there's proof). That human being, who before may have been loved and respected, instantly is demoted to sub-human, a "less than." I've noticed oftentimes the torches and pitchforks even make an appearance (usually via Facebook). Or on a smaller scale, take for example the son or daughter who comes out as gay to their Christian parents or friends, and is instantly disavowed. The en masse betrayal of popular opinion that lashed out at Jesus 2000 years ago, still shows up every day in our modern-day world. I admit I'm probably overly sensitive to the topic, having witnessed the very same happen to one of my best friends.
In my mind, this human behavior is reminiscent of 1984, wherein history is revised to fit the current whims of the government - histories of wars are re-written, and references to un-persons (political dissidents who've been killed by the government) are removed from written archives of the truth.
It's as if we're all waiting to blacklist each other and be the loudest to cry out, "I never knew him!"
We are all Peter.3
And that is why I'm no longer surprised when I read this part of Jesus' story. I just get very sad, because we - humanity - haven't changed.
1 We celebrate Palm Sunday one week before Easter, though after some Googling on the exact chronology of events, it looks like there's some ambiguity about exactly how many days come between Jesus' entry to Jerusalem and his crucifixion. For the sake of this blog post, let's just define it as a "few".
2 Even after four trips to the Middle East this past year, I still haven't figured out how palm trees grow in the desert. I've concluded it must be magic.
3 Not everyone may be familiar with my reference here. Peter was a disciple of Jesus, and after Jesus was arrested, Peter denied three times ever knowing him. He then felt guilty. This is a key part of his story, because I don't think we do a particular good job with that last bit today, myself and the general American populace suffering from a condition of over-amplified self-righteousness anymore.