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Lenten Reflections: Palm Sunday

Mar. 18, 2016 - by Kevin O'Brien, Director of Ignatian Partners

Jesus entering Jerusalem.On Palm Sunday, we read a lot of gospel in the liturgy – Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem, the agony in the garden, the whole Passion story. How does a crowd go from creating a welcoming, parade-like atmosphere as Jesus enters the city as a celebrity to yelling for his crucifixion and jeering at him as he struggles under the cross on the way to Golgotha?

Around a decade ago, there was a popular book out called "The Wisdom of Crowds." The author, an economist, made the argument that often better decisions are made by large groups of people than by the individuals themselves. He is talking about averaging aggregate individual choices rather than crowd psychology. That is, it’s not that when a large group of people deliberates they come to better decisions than an individual would, but rather the individual decisions of a group on average are wiser than most of the decisions made by the individuals. Contrast this with what we know colloquially as “mob mentality”, or the tendency of a group of people to whip each other into an emotional state that allows them to commit acts that they would not otherwise consider individually.

Does this imply that we humans have both the innate capacity for reaching our highest ideals and the unfortunate penchant to goad one another into acting on our basest urges? The gospels seem to hint at this again and again – and nowhere more clearly than in the events leading up to Jesus’ execution. The reality is that we, each of us, are both of those condemned prisoners hanging on either side of Jesus on Golgotha. We often act contrary to our best selves and incite others, by word and behavior, to act similarly. We see this in many of the characters in these passion narratives. But there are other characters in these same stories who remind us that we also have the capacity to respond compassionately, and to encourage each other. And they are the ones following the example of Jesus.

For reflection:

Where have we acted contrary to the path of Jesus and where have we goaded others to do the same? Can we ask Jesus to forgive these trespasses and to give us the courage to be his compassion in the world?