Week of May 10

Fickle Crowds and Flawed Systems

Read: 2 Samuel 18; Psalm 56; Matthew 27

“And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’”
Matthew 27:25, ESV


The court of public opinion is quite fickle! We will take a bird’s eye view today of one particular segment of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion where moral flip-flopping is evident (See 27:24-25). We will see how swiftly down a slippery slope a people may slide when the moral hillside is blanketed with injustice (26:4, 59, 65; 27:12-14, & 18, “out of envy that they had delivered him up”). All involved that day in Jerusalem had lost the moral high ground, so every decision further sealed their prejudgments. Sadly, no sober-minded person seemed to be on hand because all had been made drunk by the sweet wine of the Jewish leaders’ false accusations (cf. 21:9-11, 26:4, and 27:22-23, “they shouted all the more”). Let’s examine the passage to see how we may avoid the same mistakes by using Godly wisdom in challenging moral times.

A Biblical Lens

Pilate had made several attempts to stop the process that was careening out of control. He had sent Jesus to Herod, suggested that “paschal amnesty” be applied to him, proposed to have him scourged and released, attempted to have him returned to the Jewish authorities, protested before he pronounced sentence, and here washes his hands (27:24; cf. Luke and John; EBC). Pilate was not innocent. He permitted the derailment of the much-heralded Pax Romana, “Roman peace.” We see that even courtrooms are not always the best places to receive justice (See 27:4, “innocent blood”).

The crowd knew their Old Testament (see 2 Samuel 1:16; 3:28; cf. also Acts 18:6; 20:26)! Even so, they were guilty that day of a grave offense (27:25). In a wider sense, the mob also was representative of the entire nation (cf. 23:37-39). Matthew shows the pervasive nature of sin on a personal level (e.g. Judas) and on a broader level with the crowd. He also exposes the injustice that crushes people via corrupt social structures. Friends, we often will not hear this latter statement in our churches. Please take a moment to allow it to soak into your mind, then heart. We will not understand Acts 2:23 unless we see the horror of our own national sins.

A Moral Pathway

We may apply “His blood be on us” to a recent event where an unarmed African American man, Ahmaud Arbery, was shot and killed in Georgia by two men who confronted him while he was jogging. His 26th birthday would have been celebrated on Friday; instead, his mother mourns his senseless death on this Mother's Day. We grieve with her.

At least two men saw him running and concluded that he was a burglar. A third man may have been the one who filmed the incident on his mobile phone! This case provides us with an example of how people may overreact to a situation and pronounce hasty judgment. The men who shot him obviously qualify for this assessment, but I am referring to the court of public opinion. The media broadcasted a mobile phone video, which is horrifying and deeply upsetting to watch, and people across the nation began lining up to make their moral judgments. What are Christians to do?

Our context in Matthew invites us to examine this wider moral concern. Space will not allow me to evaluate ethically the entire situation regarding Ahmaud, but I will comment on a great danger that hasty moral judgment creates, as viewed through our Biblical lens from today’s reading. Jesus’ bogus trial was the tragic end to a process that had been set in motion many months prior to that day. The trial brought gross systemic failure to light, and the crowd fell prey to it as well.

Recall Caiaphas’ words, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish” (See John 11:49-50) . Caiaphas used a form of moral reasoning that focused on maximizing a desired benefit for the many. People use this form of reasoning to this day. In layman’s parlay, “the end justifies the means.” Keeping their positions and their nation’s status quo was the “good” or “value” that the High Priest wanted to maximize. Jesus’ own right to life and freedom to pursue that which was good and right became expendable in order to secure the broader goal.

Preserving the property of the community was allowed to override Mr. Arbery’s right to life and civil rights, but the more egregious wrong was yet to be exposed. The men who shot Ahmaud, one of whom was a former investigator in the Brunswick District Attorney's office, also may have been given preferential treatment by authorities in the office where he was previously employed. Words like, "they were protecting their own" have been used to describe the aftermath of the killing.

The assault took place in February, but the incident only became widely known when a mobile phone video of the incident was made public in recent days. It was not until late this last week that murder charges were filed. Sometimes the justice system justifies injustices in order to achieve a specific end. This also is where we need to focus our outrage. Hmm.

The facts are not all in on that case; however, they are in with regard to Jesus’ situation. The Savior’s death was justified on the ground of flawed moral reasoning. That approach permits overriding individual justice claims to give priority to those of the many. The moral mob played into flawed reasoning that day, and it too often does the same to this day. Christians are to act differently.

First, the Kingdom of God operates justly because it is based upon the character and actions of a Holy God. Despite the human injustices that Jesus encountered, God’s justice was served through the sacrificial death of His Son. He was vindicated through the resurrection (cf. Acts 2:36; Romans 5:8). God brings good out of very evil circumstances.

Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples strive to be like their King (Matthew 5:6)! His servants seek first His kingdom and righteousness (6:33). In doing so, sincere disciples are challenged not to follow “crowd moral thinking.” Ahmaud Arbery's death calls for Christians to address systemic injustice in Brunswick, Georgia, and our nation. It also challenges us to follow Christ and not the crowd.

For Your Journaling

1. We need not wring our hands and wonder what we may do. Christians have been given the spiritual DNA to seek the Father’s wisdom and to display His character in our moral judgments (Galatians 5:22-23). We are able to seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Choose to refrain from making rash moral judgments by yielding your life to the Spirit’s control .

2. The Body of Christ will do well to consider how it may unite to speak as one voice against systemic moral failures. Write down ways that the Church may unify to address moral wrongs. You are encouraged to follow the developments in Mr. Arbery's case and to issue a congregational response.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock