Language Arts class in small-town Sikeston, Missoura High School English class included dissecting the minutia of literary classics of the day. Among these was Harper Lee’s treatment of rape, class, racial violence, and justice (and injustice) in To kill a Mockingbird.
Atticus Finch tells his tomboy daughter Scout to remember that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. Mockingbirds never harm other living creatures, but simply provide pleasure with their songs, “They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” ‘To kill a mockingbird’ is to kill that which is innocent and harmless—like Tom Robinson.”
Atticus is a small-town southern lawyer who raises the legal standard with his unpopular representation of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, named Mayella. Finch’s children Scout and Jem, and their friend Dill are central characters and through whose eyes we see the plot unfold.
Scout soon must defend her father’s honor when classmates taunt that he’s a “nigger-lover,” and defuses a lynch mob as she stands by him blocking the door to the jail. Atticus had taught Scout (and us) that mobs do not think, but rather act on emotion. Atticus tells Jem to remember that mobs are “made up of people”, meaning that if a mob is broken down into the individuals that are part of it, then it is no longer a mob thinking with the emotional collective brain. It is now just a group of individuals each with his own sense of right and wrong.
People, on their own, are far less apt to do the things that mobs do. Mobs tend to rely on emotion and not thought, whereas people are more likely to use some thought before they act. Even people who disagree on some issues can stand up for one another and protect one another.
Absent this, the mob creates headlines and horrible memories of Michael Brown, Rodney King, and Reginald Denny.
One of the many symbolic side-plots, Atticus must shoot a rabid dog (a not so subtle racism metaphor) running in the street, although it’s “not his job to do it.” This is clearly Harper Lee’s reminder of our own free choice to do what is right, despite whether or not it’s our obligation to do so.
And so we come back to Holy Week.
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem. Somehow word has leaked out that here is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. Could he be the Messiah?
Word spreads in the gathering crowd. He’s riding on a donkey with her colt. Didn’t the prophet Zechariah say something about this? Could he be the Messiah?
By now the crowd is large. Then the actions start. Somewhere in the midst of all the people someone lays a branch on the ground in front of Jesus. Then someone else does it. Someone else lays a cloak on the ground. And before you know it seemingly everyone is doing it.
And such a clamor! Everyone is making noise, noise that comes together in a din, nothing very defined. Until, ringing out distinctly above it all, a word is heard, a prayer. Others join in. Finally, in unison, like a great choir, all around Jesus the crowd is shouting, “Hosanna!”
Save us, son of David, from the oppressive hand of the Roman rulers!
Save us from our sin, Jesus, you who come in the name of the Lord!
Of course you know what’s next.
It’s not just the Roman leaders here who think Jesus is a threat to the establishment. It’s also the Jewish religious leaders.
For many years the Jewish people have been under foreign rule. Uprisings have been attempted—even uprisings that were thought to be messianic. But now, at this time in history, the religious leaders have it pretty well. They are the “who’s who” in the city of Jerusalem. The Roman overlords give these religious leaders quite a lot of liberty. These religious leaders have grown accustomed to the respect shown them. And so on.
But now this so-called prophet, this Jesus of Nazareth, is causing a stir. Not good, as far as the religious leaders are concerned. Not good, to the point that they want him out of the way—to the point that they want him dead! Yes, he’s that much of a threat!
Apparently they’re not the only disgruntled ones. Whether it’s impatience, frustration, or something more sinister – truly evil, One of his closest followers, hand picked for redemption, has sold Him out for thirty pieces of silver!
Jesus is then tried in an early morning, nefarious kangaroo court, and found guilty on trumped up charges. Pilate, the Roman leader in charge of the trial, caves to the mob. Instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, the crowd shouts, again and again, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
But here’s the worst part: this is by and large the same crowd that was shouting Hosanna just a few days ago. And now it’s, “Crucify him!”
We humans are fickle.
There are times we feel like nothing can come between me and Jesus. He has redeemed me; he is saving me from all my sin and wickedness; and he will lead me into glory. I know this in the bottom of my heart, down to the core of my being. And nothing’s gonna shake me. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
But you know how it is. Life sneaks in a sucker punch. We don’t see it coming, but all of a sudden the wind is knocked out of us. All of a sudden, we have questions, doubts, quandaries. And we begin to think, Maybe I’m not so sure about my faith after all. Maybe Jesus was just a man, that this story I’ve heard all my life, that this faith I practice, is just a complex Santa Claus story. Viscerally I believe, and not just with my emotions, but truly with my reasoning as well. But from somewhere creeps these doubts. Maybe the crowd’s right after all. Maybe I should just give up, forget this emotional wave I’ve been surfing. Maybe I should just give in and yell “Crucify him!” with everyone else.
So then, what are you going to do?
And so, here we are on Palm Sunday participating in the annual reading of Our Lord’s Passion. We get to the part where we’re supposed to be the worked up mob, “Crucify Him! CRUCIFY HIM!!!” My inner Pharisee feigns indignation. “I would never have shouted that!” Who am I fooling? Of course I would have.
Jesus hand-picked these twelve from anyone in the world. They lived with Him for three years. They witnessed miracles. Firsthand! They saw lepers cured; With their own eyes, they saw Lazarus and the small child raised from the dead! Three of them witnessed the transfiguration. They saw Him walk on water!
But they fell asleep when He begged them to stay awake. Everyone of them (except John) deserted him and ran for their lives. The man He trusted enough to hand over the “keys,” and whom He called “the rock,” denied him three times, cursing that He didn’t even know the Man.
And I think I’m better than they were? I, who beg and plead for a deeper love and stronger faith, because of my human weaknesses?
God has the fullness of time, seeing the past, present, and future all together. He knew these men would betray Him. And He made me this way. With all of my doubts, faults, and shallowness. He knows I try. He knows I love Him with all that my human weakness allows. But, in fact, I am human. “Lord I do believe. Help my unbelief!”
What you are is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God (Hans Urs Von Balthasar)