As we move from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, a lot of people wonder how the “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday gave way to the “Crucify him!”of Good Friday. How did the crowd go from praising Jesus to condemning him, all in a matter of days?
Well, it didn’t. Because we are talking about two different crowds. Jesus’ crowd, the one we read about on Palm Sunday, was made up of Jesus’ disciples, other followers of his, some of the people he had recently healed, and other Jewish people in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. That’s the Palm Sunday crowd.
We know the Good Friday crowd contained chief priests and elders—people unlikely to have been part of Jesus’ procession into the city on Palm Sunday. It’s not clear who else was in the Good Friday crowd, but it was likely people sympathetic to the interests of the religious elite; scholars have even suggested that some in the crowd had been paid—or otherwise coerced–to come offer false testimony and create a scene. I imagine that many in this Good Friday crowd had been cheering Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem the previous Sunday—not Jesus’ entry.
Jesus’ crowd and Pilate’s crowd were made up, for the most part, of different people. People with different motivations. Different hopes. Different understandings of the world. Different views of God.
It was, for the most part, Pilate’s crowd who had gathered on Friday and who took up the chant: “Crucify him!”.
So where was Jesus’ crowd?
Perhaps skulking around the edges of the trial, trying not to get noticed. Perhaps telling their friends about the Messiah that they had welcomed into the city last weekend. Perhaps sleeping off an over-indulgent Passover meal or preparing the next meal or taking their kids to a soccer game . . .
To be fair, Jesus hadn’t exactly given them all a reason to stick around. A lot happened between the triumphal entry and Friday’s trial. Jesus turned over tables in the temple and cursed the fig tree. He got into multiple public arguments with religious leaders, even resorting to name-calling (“You white-washed tombs!”). Jesus told bizarre and violent parables, made dark predictions about the future, and, to top it all off, ruined a perfectly good meal by telling people to eat his body and drink his blood.
We can see why many of the people in Jesus’ crowd might have wandered away; how they might have found other things to do besides follow Jesus around the city all week waving their slowly drying branches, hoarsely croaking out “Hosannas.”
We can understand that following Jesus gets tiring, confusing, and more than a little uncomfortable. We can understand the inclination to just let things be. To play nice with the powerful. To . . . just . . . chill out for a little while.
Jesus, with his humility and obscurity, with his poverty and his annoying insistence on telling the truth—Jesus does not always draw a crowd. Sure, the hungry-feeding, demon-exorcising, leprosy-healing, joke-telling, miracle-working, Jesus draws a crowd.
But this Holy Week “I’m on my way to the cross and the world is a terrible mess” Jesus? People suddenly have other things they need to do.
Here’s the thing, though. Pilate’s crowd is always there. Because people want to cozy up to power; because Pilate’s events are well-publicized; because Pilate is a master of telling people what they want to hear; because sometimes people are paid—outright or otherwise—to be there. Pilate will never lack a crowd.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus’ crowd, in a sense, balances out Pilate’s. Sure, Pilate still has his war horses and soldiers and pomp and circumstance. But Jesus has fun. And hope. And music. And the presence of God in Jesus’ crowd is a force to challenge the violence of empire that Pilate represents.
But on Good Friday? Jesus’ crowd is gone. And those who aren’t gone are scared. So Pilate’s crowd is the only crowd we hear. The “Hosannas” turn to “Crucify him”–not because the people in Jesus’ crowd changed their minds. But because the people in Jesus’ crowd got bored. Or scared. Because the people in Jesus’ crowd stopped singing.
This post is excerpted from a sermon I preached in 2017.