Just because something is popular, doesn’t make it good or right. William Penn said “Avoid popularity; it has many snares, and no real benefits.”
In my previous religious circles, we were always working to build a big crowd so that we could assure ourselves we were doing the right thing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with large churches AS LONG AS they are staffed properly so that families are more than just numbers, and the church is more than a mere sacrament factory. But the notion that big crowds equals success or goodness just won’t work. Ever.
Even our Lord Jesus experienced big crowds, but that wasn’t always a good thing. Eventually one big crowd will cry out “Crucify Him.”
Look at our lesson today in Mark 5:24-34:
At that time, a great crowd followed Jesus and thronged about him. And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
We know this story so well. The woman had been hemorrhaging for many years and had come to the end of her rope. She heard of Jesus and knew He was nearby so she set out to simply touch the hem of His garment. She did, and she was healed.
But look at the big crowd following the Lord that day. It gathered around this itinerant Preacher from Nazareth because of His teachings to be sure, but also because they heard He was healing people of their illnesses. And they wanted to be healed.
Healings have a way of drawing a crowd!
The woman touches Jesus’ garment and she is healed, and He asks “Who touched my garments?” The disciples look at the press of the crowd and wonder what could Jesus mean by this. The whole crowd is pressing in on Him and He asks who touched My garments? The crowd was there because of His miraculous works, but she touched Him with faith and expectation, and she was healed. We don’t know from the story if anyone else was healed that day because this is not the intent of the story. We aren’t supposed to focus on the crowd except to note that one lady touched Him in faith and was made whole.
So the crowds were big around the Lord, but He didn’t focus on the crowds. He focused on the faith. God never sees humanity as one group or “constituency,” but as Sam or Martha or William or Linda or, so on and so on. He is not swayed by popularity as much as by love and devotion, and He knows each of us by name!
Today, are you tempted by the crowds you see here or there to wonder if you’re in the right spot? Are you swayed by the numbers to follow along with the crowd, or are you so aware of your need for Jesus that the crowds disappear and only He remains in your field of vision? Yes, let’s assemble ourselves to worship Him often, but never forget He knows you and loves you and sees you no matter the crowds around you. Being Orthodox on Purpose means following Him, not the crowds.