One of the coolest masses in the liturgical year is Palm Sunday. After all, that one calls for the most participation from us, the congregation! We wave palm leaves and sing Hosannas, in imitation of the crowd that welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem, with a special gospel reading before the first reading, detailing that triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Who doesn’t like waving palm leaves around?
But then, the mass takes a very serious turn. The first reading goes into the Isaiah’s prophecy of the Passion. The second reading, St. Paul writes about the crucified Christ. And then, for the actual gospel? The Passion narrative. And we, the congregation, have a speaking role.
But there’s something about that always bothered me when I was younger about that speaking role. Our role is the mob. Our parts include us mocking Christ, demanding Christ be crucified, isolating St. Peter and making him so uncomfortable that he declares that Peter doesn’t know Christ… that is all our parts.
And I hated those parts when I was younger. After all, I didn’t want to crucify Christ! I didn’t want to mock Him! I didn’t want to drive St. Peter away from the faith! Wasn’t Palm Sunday all about welcoming Him in, as our King? Why did we have to delve into this terrible part and take on this terrible role as the angry mob?
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the reason why we are the mob is because… well… we are the mob. After all, if Christ did carry all of our sins on the cross, that means whenever we do sin, we might as well call out, “Crucify Him!”
But, on a deeper level, we are sinful creatures who tend to follow our own passions and pursuits. And, if things don’t go our way, or if things get difficult for us, we tend to blame God and demand that He be the one to fix everything that is going wrong with our own lives — even when we might be the ones to blame for our own problems! And if God doesn’t swoop into our lives the way we want Him to and fix everything, we get mad.
We are the first ones that put God on trial when things don’t go our way.
We are the first ones who cry out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
And, so I want to feature this picture, which is called, “Ecce Homo” or, if you translated the Latin into English, “Behold the Man.”
In this scene, Pontius Pilate presents Christ, crowned with thorns, to the crowd, while the crowd cries out, “Crucify Him!” While usually these sorts of pictures focus on Christ, this one focuses on the mob that surround Christ in this particular moment.
But, what is particularly magnificent about this painting is the detail of everybody’s faces. If you look closely at the picture and zoom in (by the way, you can click the picture in order to get a bigger image… you’re going to want to do that with this picture!) you’ll see that everybody has a different facial expression and way of reacting to Christ. So, even though they’re all part of the mob, they all have a distinct role of adding to the mob.
And, yes, there are some good people in there too! Some people are praying. A woman (possibly the Virgin Mary?) has fainted. A woman (possibly Mary Magdalene) is to the side, looking as if she is praying. Another figure below an arch is praying. And some people look visibly upset.
But, most people?
They are clearly swept up in the moment as Pontius Pilate theatrically presents Jesus to the crowd and glorying in the violence which is to come in the form of a public execution. And yes! Some of the people in the crowd were probably the same people who welcomed Christ with palms! But, because Jesus did not conform to their expectations and because He allowed Himself to be beaten and humiliated, they gladly sent Him to His death. After all, wasn’t the Messiah supposed to deliver Jerusalem out of the hands of the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel? Wasn’t He supposed to free them all? How could this man — clearly beaten by the Romans — be that Messiah? How could He be God?
And so they would happily hand Christ over to be crucified.
And for us! How many times do we, ourselves, question God and say, “God didn’t do [insert thing here] that I desperately wanted. How can God be God? If He truly is the Savior of the world, then why couldn’t He save me from this terrible thing? Why must I suffer so much?”
And, in a similar way, we would happily hand Christ over to be crucified.
So, as we continue Lent, let’s remember that, as tempting as it may be, we are not God; we are the mob. So, let us submit to God — who is judge, after all, and follow Him faithfully, even though we walk in the shadow of death.
Questions to Ponder:
- Look carefully at the picture. Which person do you identify with the most in your current relationship with God?
- In what ways are you like the mob?
- In what ways are you like the faithful who stand by Christ?
Help us follow and submit to You.
This artwork is featured in my book, The Sorrowful Mysteries, which leads you prayer by prayer through the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, each prayer beautifully illustrated with religious artwork. Take a peek at it here!