crowds are made up of people

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

I never noticed the crowd before.

I always thought Jesus just raised the widow’s son because he had nothing better to do. Because he knew he was supposed to, maybe. Because it was his job.

But this is different. Jesus had very important things to do – he was leading a crowd to a town! They must have been jostling, talking, kids running around, people asking questions – “Rabbi!’ “Rabbi!” – with the disciples there, too, blundering about in all their earnestness like always.

If I were leading a crowd somewhere, we would give a funeral a wide berth. People died all the time. People died young all the time. There was no reason for the two crowds to meet.

Jesus, though – Jesus didn’t see a funeral. He didn’t see a crowd. He saw one woman, whose last hope for a family had been stripped from her. He watched her replaying scenes from her son’s life, helpless to stop reliving a happiness she would never know again.

And he had compassion on her. And he stopped. And he gave him back to his mother. Did he even think about what chaos must have ensued?

Zacchaeus couldn’t see over the crowd, but he didn’t go home. The professional in his suit and tie climbed a tree instead; and it must have been a relief to be invisible for a while.

Why did Jesus stop? Didn’t Zacchaeus have some fairly first-world problems? The text doesn’t say what made him single out the sinner in the tall tree; but we know he was always looking, searching out people in pain, people who sought him, people whose sin was bearing down hard on them. The Spirit has a way of calling attention to the people on the edges.

Jesus and crowds have a strange relationship. He alternately has compassion on them and feeds them, alienates them with his weird teachings, confuses them on purpose with impenetrable stories, weeps for them, shows vague disdain and disinterest in them, tries to get away from them, is worshipped by them, seems wearied by them, blesses their children.

This used to confuse me. But my own life has become much more crowded in the past year as an “adult”. I have a larger network of shallower relationships than I used to. Graduation expands one’s peer group vastly. And I live and work near the middle of a city, surrounded by crowds and interacting regularly with hundreds of people experiencing various levels of poverty.

It is exhausting.

Now I get Jesus’ ministry a lot more than I used to, and I’m also more intimidated by it, because even though it’s wiser, it’s not any easier. It’s not easy to let the crowd be and say and do what they will while you minister to one person at a time.

How did he stay open to these individuals’ needs, to their pain, when the needs and follies and demands of the crowd are so blindingly overwhelming?

And how did he so often stand against the crowd… precisely because of his love for the crowd?

I don’t often know; I rarely feel that I succeed. Sometimes circumstances absolutely prevent me from spending any time on the more intimate relationships that make this work worthwhile. And sometimes I follow the crowd in the wrong direction because I just can’t fight the current anymore.

But I find myself looking harder for the lost and lonely, for the rock-bottomers and the desperate-for-a-glimpse tree-sitters. I find myself throwing away efficiency and the crowd’s demands to reinstate compassion, following my heart when it goes out from me to offer the unbusinesslike moment of rest, the hand on the shoulder, the gift of my full attention.

And when it is still all too much, when I get overwhelmed or make mistakes or need to get away, there is the friend, the phone call, the timely Scripture or the whisper of the Spirit bearing rest, and I see Jesus walking through the crowd toward me.

 

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