From John’s Gospel:
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 9:12-13 – September 18, 2012)
We are living through a presidential election campaign in the United States. It seems to have been going on for ever, and the political ads and the news coverage of the candidates are increasing in intensity and in frequency. Pollsters take the public’s political pulse; commentators analyze the polls; the public reacts to the analysis; the pollsters re-poll the public. It’s a system of pendulum swings that feeds upon itself and oscillates back and forth. Flip-flopping candidates are matched by a flip-flopping electorate, and the candidates, their surrogates, and the commentators all decry the fickleness of the crowd.
But there is nothing new in a vacillating crowd, just look at today’s story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In just a few days, without the help of 24/7 television news and the internet, the same crowd will be whipped into a frenzy demanding Jesus’ execution. In their eyes, Jesus will go from king to criminal in less than a week! They will move from “Hosanna!” to “Hang him!” in four days’ time! Talk about a rapidly swinging electoral pendulum!
Of course, at this point in the American electoral process opinions are pretty much hardened; our electoral choices are probably rock-solid by now. The candidates are courting a small portion of voters, the so-called “undecided”. This group makes up under 10% of the voting public: a recent Wall Street Journal poll says only 3% of voters haven’t decided who they will vote for, while Gallup places the number at 8% at the highest. In physics terms, I suspect, the “amplitude” of the political pendulum’s oscillations is very small.
It was larger in Jesus’ time. As told in the Gospels, the swing involved nearly the whole crowd of visitors (and residents) in Jerusalem, not just a small (under 10%) group of “undecided” Jews.
Here’s what I take away from a comparison of the Jerusalem crowd and the American electorate, and the outcome of their and our decisions . . . in the long run, they were not in control and, frankly, neither are we. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t care, shouldn’t decide as carefully and prayerfully as we can, shouldn’t take part in the electoral process, shouldn’t vote. We should do all those things! But we should do so in the faithful assurance that, in the long run, God is and will be in control. The “Jerusalem electorate” chose badly; God redeemed that decision and used its result for the salvation of the world. However we choose, whatever the short term result, in the long term God will use it.
Archbishop William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War, once said:
“While we deliberate, God reigns.
When we decide wisely, God reigns.
When we decide foolishly, God reigns.
When we serve God in humble loyalty, God reigns.
When we serve God self-assertively, God reigns.
When we rebel and seek to withhold our service God reigns –
The Alpha and the Omega, which is and which was,
And which is to come, the Almighty.”
So we should do our homework. We should study the issues, review the candidates, take part in the process, vote in the election. We should do so hopefully and, regardless of the outcome, we should not despair. In the end, whatever decision we make, God’s in control!
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.