Between the cliff and the crowd

Have you ever felt between a rock and a hard place? Have you been forced to choose one side or the other? Were you ever pressed between the cliff and the crowd? Jesus recognized pressure — he lived it. In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims the Scriptures in Nazareth and announces, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” At first, Jesus amazed the hometown crew, who then quickly turned on him and were “filled with furry.”

Old neighbors, who once embraced him, now enclosed him. Their faces went red with rage. Their fists raised in defiant anger. Hateful words spewed from their mouths. The weight and force of the crowd pushed him to the “brow of the hill.” The screaming voices of the crowd pressed Jesus between the cliff and the crowd. There was no escape at the edge of the cliff.

Crowds can be dangerous. Bishop Robert Barron explained: “When tensions arise in a group (as they inevitably do), people commence to cast about for a scapegoat, for someone or some group to blame. Deeply attractive, even addictive, the scapegoating move rapidly attracts a crowd, which in short order becomes a mob. In their common hatred of the victim, the blamers feel an ersatz sense of togetherness.” It’s easy to follow the crowd, but it takes courage to stand apart.

Whenever we have the choice between the crowd and the cliff, always choose the cliff, for that is where Jesus will be. Yet it won’t be easy. Choosing the cliff means standing with Jesus, who sides with the underdog, protects the weak, serves the poor, loves sacrificially, and speaks the truth — no matter how threatening or counter-cultural.

At the climax of the tension suddenly, “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” What? He did what? They were ready to “hurl him down headlong,” and he passes through them. Rationally, there was no way out. Yet Jesus passes through them. How? In the reading from St. Paul, we receive a clue: “Love never fails.” Love always makes a way — love never fails.

When we listen patiently and act humbly, love makes a way. When we work for the good of others, love makes a way. When we refuse to brood over an injury and forgive, love makes a way. When we proclaim the truth, love makes a way. When we respond with kindness, love finds a way.

As parents/grandparents, we warn our children of the crowd mentality, which can quickly turn into a gang or mob. We name grace — God’s loving presence — by encouraging them to stand with a bullied classmate, help the weaker neighbor or work for an unpopular cause.

From the moment Jesus officially began his ministry, the world targeted him as the scapegoat, yet his love was stronger than the maddening crowd. His love always makes a way, driving through insurmountable obstacles, reconciling opposing forces and opening dead ends. When we love, in Christ, miracles occur, and we pass through the cliff and the crowd. Love never fails. Now, that’s good news!

When have you chosen the cliff over the crowd? When have you stood up for someone or something unpopular?

How has God’s love gotten you through a difficult situation?

Have you ever felt pressed for more income to pay bills and more time to care for family?

Have you ever felt the need to challenge our culture and yet not hurt nor offend?

Have you ever felt wedged between whistle blowing and keeping your position?

Have you ever felt caught between pleasing others and being true to yourself?

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