Following the Crowd
The crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Matthew 21:9
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about chemical dependency treatment and how it works. Since going to inpatient treatment myself, it’s always amazed me that hardened drug users can stay sober while in treatment. It’s not that they couldn’t leave; very few treatment centers have locked doors. By radically changing the environment of the addict though, inpatient treatment helps to radically change behavior. The longer someone stays in this new environment, the better his chances of recovery. If and when he returns to the previous using environment, the risk of relapse is dramatically increased.
As much as we don’t like to admit it, community and environment have a profound effect on our behavior. Peer pressure is powerful. In church, when everyone sings praises to God, we join in. At work, when the conversation turns inappropriate, we join in just as easily. For good and bad, our behavior often mirrors our surroundings.
In today’s passage, Jesus entered Jerusalem on what would become known as Palm Sunday. Upon entering the city, he was welcomed by adoring fans. The crowd was swept up in support of Christ. A few days later though, the same Jerusalem crowd turned on him, demanding his death. I imagine there were many in both crowds who, on their own, wouldn’t have acted as they did. Caught up in both the adoring crowd and the hateful crowd though, they simply went along.
There are a lot of lessons about the power of community and environment here. To be wise, I must be as purposeful about my environment as possible. If I’m an alcoholic, I can’t spend time in a bar or with friends who drink. As a Christian, I must regularly meet with others who want to follow Christ. I must make a conscious effort to live according to God, not my environment, even when it’s uncomfortable. I should recognize my own influence on others, using it to build them up, not drag them down.
Following Christ and living in recovery doesn’t mean I withdraw from the world. It does mean though, that I must abandon those who encourage my self-destructive behaviors and that I must surround myself with those who are headed in the direction I truly want to go.