“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!……. Crucify him!” Mark 11:8; 14:13
A theatrical group of professional actors was hired to do a stage production of the passion. All the main characters – like Jesus, Pilate, and Peter — were to be played by members of the theatrical group. All the minor characters – like the people in the crowd scenes were to be played by local people. One of the minor characters picked to play in the crowd scenes was a girl named Erin. She was excited about being chosen.
On the day of the play, the minor characters were called together. The director introduced them to a dozen men wearing red turbans. “These are your leaders,” he said. “When you get on stage, watch them carefully. Do everything they do! Shout everything they shout!” Then the director stressed that two scenes, especially, were important. The first was the opening Palm Sunday scene, where Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph. The second was the Good Friday scene, where Jesus was condemned to death.
Young Erin could hardly wait for the Palm Sunday scene to begin. Finally, the curtain went up. The men in red turbans shouted, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowd shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Erin got so caught up in the shouting that she forgot about the audience and the play. It was really Palm Sunday and she was praising Jesus enthusiastically.
Before Erin realized it, the scene was over. The men in the red turbans led the crowd off the stage. There Erin waited excitedly for the second important scene: the condemnation on Good Friday. Just before the curtain went up, the men in the red turbans reminded the crowd: “Watch us carefully! Do everything we do! Shout everything we shout!”
The curtain rose, revealing a balcony. On it stood two people: Pilate in a gold robe and Jesus in a purple robe. Pilate said to the crowd, “Which man do you want me to set free: Jesus or Barabbas?” The men in red turbans shouted, “Barabbas!” The crowd shouted, “Barabbas!” When the shouting died down, Pilate said to the crowd, “What, then, should I do with Jesus?”
The men in the red turbans shouted, “Crucify him!” Once again, Erin got so caught up in the shouting that she forgot the audience and the play. Suddenly she found herself screaming. “No! No! Don’t crucify him! Please don’t!”
Years later Erin recalled her passion play experience. She said that it taught her something she never really thought about before. The people who shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday were the same people who shouted “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. And the reason they did it was because the men in the red turbans told them to do it.
Many people in today’s world are like the actors and actresses in the crowd scenes of that passion play. They perform on cue. They don’t think for themselves, they don’t speak for themselves. They don’t listen to their consciences. They simply mimic the men (or women) in red turbans. They simply follow the leader and blend into the crowd. Lots of Christians during the Holocaust, for example, acted like automatons, following Hitler and the Nazis wearing red turbans (swastikas).
Who wear red turbans today? A few examples come to mind. Radical fundamentalist clerics who preach intolerance and hatred; political leaders more concerned with amassing and staying in power than in exercising it responsibly; media talk show hosts who while espousing their doctrinaire views, trivialize and vilify people that disagree with them.
Young brothers and sisters, who wear red turbans in your lives? Rap performers, perhaps, whose lyrics condone violence and degrading conduct toward women? Or sexually provocative pop music divas who insinuate that girls who don’t look, dress, or act like them are losers? Or how about “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” like characters at school, seemingly “model” students on the outside, but with a shadow side that includes drug use or other high-risk behaviors?
When we follow people in red turbans, we fail to act with integrity. A person of integrity knows the difference between right and wrong and diligently pursues doing right, no matter the obstacles or consequences. Jesus is the personification of a person of integrity. He understood well what every good leader knows – what’s popular isn’t necessarily right, and what’s right isn’t necessarily popular. He wasn’t swayed by what was popular or easy, but instead lived a life of total fidelity to his Father’s will, up to and including his death on the cross.
My friend Tom Ryan who died last month was a man of integrity. Mayor of the City of Rochester for twenty years, he never let politics get in the way of good government. He cared deeply for people and worked tirelessly as a public servant to improve the lives of his constituents.
Integrity, like a muscle, grows more resilient and powerful with exercise. Lack of exercise, on the other hand, causes integrity to wither and die. Every time we avoid doing right, we increase our disposition to do wrong. The voice of conscience within gradually diminishes in volume until eventually it isn’t heard anymore.
People of integrity take a stand against evil in our world. In the words of the psalmist, they walk blamelessly and live their lives doing justice. They take a stand, for example, against the mistreatment of minorities, whether Jew or Muslim, African-American or Latino.
When we fail to take a stand for what’s right, when we fail to stand up for Christ and his teachings, Christ suffers and dies all over again. As his followers, we’re called to stand apart from the crowd. We’re called to challenge the men and women in red turbans, even at the expense of great sacrifice, because we recall Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on Good Friday.
The story of Erin’s experience in the Passion play and our Lenten devotions of the last several weeks make us ask ourselves how we can do even more to bear witness to Christ and his teachings, even more to advance the kingdom on earth. In short, how we can do more, pray more, and sacrifice more for Christ, who did, prayed, and sacrificed so much for us.
And moreover, not only must we do the right thing, but just as importantly, we must avoid doing the wrong thing. Why? Well, for one reason, because of the power of our example to influence others. You see, we too may be wearing red turbans.
Deacon Anthony J. Sciolino
Church of the Transfiguration
Mark 11:1-10/37; Isaiah 50:4-7/38; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47. Palm Sunday. April 13, 2003. (Cycle B)