“The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen” – Luke 19:37b
A delightful image upon Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem; a “multitude” of disciples gather to give praise for what they’ve seen. Who are this multitude? Certainly there would have been some local onlookers; those unsuspecting types going about their daily lives who just happened upon this little procession. To be sure this triumphal entry is a mockery of the kingly processions folks of this day would have been accustomed to. There is no big war horse; only a small colt. There are no weapons; only palm branches and strewn cloaks. There are no soldiers; only a rag tag band scripture describes as a multitude of disciples. It’s this multitude that has me interested.
Simply put we have no idea how many people made up this multitude. Numbering in the hundreds or even thousands is unlikely. At best this may be only a few dozen folks following Jesus into the old city of Jerusalem. Who are they?
Well most certainly Jesus’ twelve hand picked disciples would have been there. Let’s meet the boys in the band shall we.
Leading off we’ve got Peter and Andrew. Now these two were brothers, fishermen by trade. The gospels suggest that Peter and Andrew were business partners of two other disciples, James and John. Having business partners might suggest that they were doing better than the average fisherman along the shores of the sea of Galilee but still not as well as James and John as we shall see in a bit. All in all they would be of average education and working class poor by our standards today; oh, and there’s the smell, fishermen always have a bit of an aroma about them.
Then there’s James and John both sons of Zebedee. Like Peter and Andrew they were fishermen though doing a bit better. It would seem that their father Zebedee was the founder of the business and James and John had perhaps taken over the day to day operations. These two were likely doing better than your run of the mill fishermen. They had boats and hired men and business partners. There wasn’t really a middle class at this time in history but they might would identify as middle class. Oh, lets not forget Jesus’ nickname for these two “Sons of Thunder.” It’s probable that they had some tempers; know anybody like that?
Jude, also called Judas (not Iscariot) and his brother James, son of Alphaeus are next up. We know little about James though Jude for whom a letter is named was likely a Jewish nationalist. Jewish nationalists were none to happy about the occupation of their homeland by Rome; to say they wanted them out was putting it mildly. Now to be sure most Jewish folks would want the Romans out, but their zeal for this would be to varying degrees. Jewish nationals were somewhere on the more passionate end of the spectrum, though there were others who would make them look mild. It’s likely that James, while not identifying as such would have a certain soft spot for the position because of his brother.
While Jewish Nationals would be passionate they paled in comparison to the Zealots. Zealots weren’t just card carrying anti Romans, they were weapons stashing, confrontation stirring, just give me a reason to start something serious anti Romans. They were looking for a fight and had the weapons to pull it off. Jesus had two of these gentlemen in his merry band. The first was Simon Zelotes; we know little about him besides this one fact. The other was the more well known in Judas Iscariot. He, like other Zealots, was looking for a Messiah that would resemble Gen. George Patton. It’s little surprise then that he would betray Jesus being that Jesus was nonviolent. We’re also told in the Gospels that Judas was something of a thief.
Matthew was a tax collector. Now tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people because they were turncoats. These fellows were good Jewish boys who went to work for the Romans preying on their Jewish brothers and sisters. The Romans would get the tax collectors to get money from the Jews, any amount the tax collector added on the top was theirs for the keeping. These would be unsavory types who knew where to find you and how to make you pay, think Luca Brasi with sandals.
We wrap it up with Bartholomew, Philip, and Thomas. Little is known of these three except for Thomas who is forever branded as a doubter. Might we say of them that they are relatively unremarkable?
So this was part of Jesus’ multitude. Some smelly fishermen, freedom fighters, a hated tax collector, a doubter, and some completely unremarkable fellows. Oh, we should probably also mention that they ranged in age from possibly as young as 14 to maybe 30 or so. It doesn’t really seem like the group you’d want to assemble to clean your yard let alone change the world with. I’ve often wondered what it would be like in the evenings around the campfire; what sort of conversations would they have? I bet they were heated…no pun intended.
But there were likely more. In a piece of artwork decorating the church commemorating the Triumphal entry at Bethphage in the Holy Land we see, as Scripture describes it, a multitude of figures. There’s a shrouded fellow known as Lazarus, the dead man with a stench who’s now alive. There’s Mary the pregnant virgin. Mary and Martha, the bitter sisters as their name suggests in the original languages, might be there as well. Can you imagine Martha trying to make this all the more orderly while Mary is mesmerized by the sight? But who else might be there? Widows and poor people; former lepers and those born blind or deaf or mute; there’s children and the elderly; people who were healed or taught or challenged. There may be a pharisee like Nicodemus, possibly a tax collector like Zacchaeus or even someone like the lawyer or the rich young man both who questioned Jesus.
The point is this, those accompanying Jesus would indeed be a multitude. They would make no sense. They wouldn’t think the same, look the same, act the same. In fact, they may not even get along. This group would be all wrong in so many ways, completely unremarkable, far from the best and brightest and certainly not the holiest or most pious. They are all here, assembled as a multitude for one reason and one reason alone. They are here because of the mighty deeds of power that Jesus has done. They have seen them with their own two eyes, they have felt the impact echoing through their lives. They are here, they are remembered not because of themselves but because of Jesus. And that story continues on into our lives. We gather on Sunday morning, we go out into mission, we are people of inherent worth and value not because of ourselves but because of Jesus. On palm Sunday morning we join with the multitude of disciples lifting our voices in praise of the mighty deeds of power that we have seen and felt.
Do you hear it; the parade goes on. It started at Bethphage all those years ago, it wound its way down the mount of olives and in through the gates of the city. It marched up to the hill called Golgotha and into the tomb. Out from the tomb this parade sprung and out to the ends of the earth. The praises of God’s never ceasing work goes on. Do you feel them? The rocks and trees, the birds and seas, voices holy and voices sinful sing it out, and you’re a part of this multitude.