Following the crowd
By Alvin Peters
For many people, it is fun to be in a crowd. In a fete, during a sporting match, in the cinema or at Mass, there is a wonderful sense of connectedness that sweeps over us that says we all belong together as we share this experience.
Other times, however, being swept up in a crowd can be destructive. People lose their sense of individuality and get caught up in the madness of a violent protest, or a riot.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is asking us which we value more: the crowd or Him. Jesus asked His disciples: Who the crowds say I am? Why did Jesus ask that question first? After all, He already knew the answers.
The disciples replied that the people thought He was John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the ancient prophets. Why those people?
During Jesus’ time on earth, the people of Israel were under Roman rule. The Roman leaders, when faced with resistance, were harsh and brutally crushed anyone who opposed their will.
The people longed for a saviour to free them. They wanted another Elijah or John the Baptist to appear to liberate them. Time and again, men did rise to attempt to defeat the Romans and some people answered the call.
The desire to be free from oppression and to restore Israel to its former glory was tempting. They failed miserably; the might of empire was too great. There were people who had high expectations of Jesus as He continued His public ministry. The crowds expected Him to be a new king, a leader who would take them away from the darkness of Roman oppression to the light of a new and glorious Israel.
What about you? Many of us are easily swayed by a crowd. We were created after all to be gregarious. We like being around other people. We want to have a sense of belonging, of fellowship. The desire to belong is very strong so many people are seduced by the latest trends and fashions. We don’t want to stand out and be unpopular.
Sometimes, people give in and are convinced to give up their individuality for the sake of the movement. These trends could be innocuous like the ice bucket challenge, foolish and potentially harmful such as licking public toilet bowls and eating cinnamon, to downright dangerous such as cancel culture and committing acts of violence such as looting and arson in the name of racial justice.
Jesus wants us to participate in the activities of the human family, to live joyously as the people of God, but He also loves us as His Father’s unique creations, not some mass of bodies to conform to someone’s whims.
This is why I think Jesus asked the second question: Who do you say I am? The disciples have been with Jesus for some time. They have seen Him teach, preach, and perform miracles. Now He is asking them: You know what the crowds say about me. What about you?
Peter answers: The Christ of God. For him to come to such a conclusion means that he had observed Jesus’ words and actions, participated in His ministry, and thought carefully about this person. He abandoned everything (eventually his own life) to follow.
For us to even begin to discover who Jesus really is, we must do the same. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples grounded in faith and love, we must abandon ourselves. We must give up the desire to belong solely to the crowd or sacrifice our individuality to follow an earthly ideology. We pick up our crosses every single day and follow our Lord.
In this age of post-truth and post-modernism, it is essential that we know who we are, what is our purpose and have a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus. We must let go of the pressures to conform to the ways of the world. We must leave behind the idea that we are the new gods and that we can solve any problem that comes our way.
Let us resolve every day to answer the question: Who is Jesus? And by our words and actions proclaim: He is the Christ of God.
O Lord, help us every day answer the question of who You are in our lives. Help us to give up our selfishness and pride, the desire to be with the crowds and to pick up our crosses, help others with theirs and discover the truth and with Your mercy find our way to You. Amen.
The gospel meditations for June are by Alvin Peters, a Catholic primary school teacher and a member of the Cathedral/Sacred Heart Parish.