I’ve never noticed the crowd before. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” Now, THAT I’ve read again and again. I’ve imagined it, a peaceful scene. Jesus, on the top of a rocky hill, in the middle of green grass swaying as a light breeze carries his words to the ears of those listening. The crowd.
Crowds are not attractive. From an arial view they create a beautiful picture. Mass movement, colorful garments, stunning photos. But in the midst of the crowd, it stinks. Body odor from an era pre-aniti-prespirant, rich spices from meals, and individuals carrying the scent of their livelihood. Livestock attached to the farmer, fish attached to the fisherman.
Then there is the noise. The picture isn’t a quite one, as people clamber up the mountain. He had been healing people “afflicted various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics”*. Then, he saw a crowd. I wonder what kind of people were in that crowd.
In Kenya, when you see a crowd gathering, it is best to move. Quickly, and in the opposite direction. Either you don’t want to be trampled or caught in a tight space if something were to happen, or you don’t want to see what the crowd is gathering around.
Or, sometimes…they can simply be annoying.
Like at the airport. At least a hundred people crowd behind the metal poles that create a boundary outside of the arrivals terminal. Drivers, safari hosts, family and various others wait eagerly, and very close together, to see if their visitor is coming out next.
As for me? I’ll be off to the side, either right or left, depending on where the least amount of people are.
In most cultures other than my own, “personal space” is defined differently.
As I’m certain was the case here. People, crowding, pushing, stretching arms to see and hear and touch Jesus.
It if were me, A day full of healing would have been enough – but for the crowd to follow me as I leave would be too much. I’d like to go home now, thank you very much. That’s enough people for the day. See you tomorrow!
Thankfully, it’s not what Jesus did this day.**
And it’s with this crowd in mind that I read the words again today… words already full of life and challenge and truth. Words that already expose a side of the kingdom now reveal more layers in front of the crowd. The crowd we see every day.
What is our response as they push their way in front, and fight for a space to see, and dart in front of the car as you navigate through buses and cars and carts. What is our response, as we see ourselves among them, clambering to be the one that makes it to the front?
What is our response when we’ve done our duty for the day, to find another task that it would be good for us to do, or are faced with the opportunity to smile and wave, or stop to ask the real questions.
As just another thing comes along,
and our limits are reached,
and we release the control that we fight for throughout the day,
to receive grace when our spirits are poor.
* Matthew 4:24-25, English Standard Version
**Though he did rise early to pray – another thing that doesn’t come naturally to me!