Mob Justice

Mob Justice (CaD Matt 27) Wayfarer

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I are creatures of habit. We typically begin each day perusing the news on our iPads as we drink our blueberry spinach smoothies (mine sweet, hers sour) and drink coffee. Quite often we remind one another of a truth that one of her favorite professors at Central College branded into her brain: “You only see what the camera wants you to see.”

News media loves to cover crowds of protestors and mobs rioting, especially if there’s destruction or violence. “If it bleeds it leads” as they say. However, even mobs and protestors can be created for visual, social, and political effects.

Most of us never think about it, but it is no secret that mobs can be bought. The BBC did a story about man in Pakistan who does it for a living. “Gathering a mob – what’s so difficult about that?” he says. “One phone call and a hundred people will come, they can throw stones till nothing is left and if that doesn’t work, it costs very little to buy 10 litres of petrol and set things on fire.” And according to the L.A. Times there’s even a firm in Beverly Hills which will organize a protest for you, though I’m guessing it might cost you a little more than in Pakistan. We’re talking Beverly Hills, after all. There’s also an interesting article in Cracked providing a first-person account of a professional protestor.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the final week of Jesus’ life is the contrast of the crowd shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Sunday, and the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday morning. The longer I’ve studied the text, the more convinced I am that the mob shouting for Jesus’ execution was no accident.

The chief priests and elders had already broken a number of their own laws by the early morning hours that they brought Jesus to the Roman Governor, Pilate. Hebrew jurisprudence held that you couldn’t arrest anyone in the dark of night, nor could you have a trial at night. The verdict was already decided by the time they held the third session of their kangaroo court as dawn was breaking because it was required that you could only sentence someone to death in the light of day.

The religious power brokers were in a hurry to get the deed done. Friday at dusk was not only the beginning of their precious weekly Sabbath, but it was also Passover week. The rushed, clandestine mockery of justice was necessary to have Jesus hanging on a cross as quickly as possible and to ensure it was a done deal before the Passover crowds who’d been singing Jesus’ praises had finished their breakfast and made their way to the Temple. These were powerful, wealthy, and politically connected men who were running the Temple racket. They would have left nothing to chance. They’d already drummed up false witnesses in the middle of the night to testify against. Jesus. It’s likely they knew how to make a small investment of shekels to hire a mob to ensure Pilate perceived that executing Jesus was the politically shrewd call.

In the quiet this morning, I think about our daily breakfast conversations and perusal of the news. One of the things I’ve observed since the dawn of the internet is how quickly things can trend before any facts are known. Not only do we “see only what the camera wants us to see” but increasingly I realize that algorithms ensure “I only see what I want to see.” People are accused, tried, convicted, and executed in the internet court of public opinion in no time at all. Never have I found Jesus’ instruction to His disciples so apt when He sent them out into the world by themselves: “Be shrewd as a serpent, gentle as a dove.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

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