Are you a bandwagon Christian?

Mark 14:1 - 15:47 (Palm Sunday, year B)

In the world of sports, there seems to be no worse name that you can be called by another fan than “bandwagon jumper”. As I understand it, this is someone who only supports a team when they are winning. When all is going well, they claim to be the team’s greatest fan. As soon as the team starts losing, however, they distance themselves from the team, claiming they never supported them in the first place.

In the readings for Palm Sunday we find many followers of Jesus who are bandwagon jumpers. At the start of Mass we heard the account of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus had many fans them. He was greeted by a jubilant crowd who acclaimed Him as their king and Messiah. If we fast forward to the Gospel reading of the Passion account from Mark, however, we find these same people calling for the death of Jesus. They beg Pilate to spare the murderer Barabbas rather than Jesus. Jesus’ inner circle - supposedly  his most die-hard fans - is also full of bandwagon jumpers. While in the garden with Jesus, Peter, James and John fell asleep when asked by Jesus to stay up and pray. Judas, one of Jesus’ closest followers, betrayed Him to the authorities. Peter, previously chosen by Christ to be leader of the apostles, denies three times that he even knew Him. When Jesus is apprehended, the authorities grab hold of the garments of one young man who leaves his clothes behind, choosing to run away naked rather than be arrested along with Jesus. He is a symbol for all the disciples of Jesus who became bandwagon jumpers at the start of His Passion. Those who once left all to follow Christ leave everything behind in order to flee from Him.

Why did Jesus’ supporters, both the casual and hardcore ones, turn into bandwagon jumpers, leaving His side when He became unpopular? Simply put, Jesus was not the kind of Messiah that they were hoping for. The crowds who greeted Jesus when He entered Jerusalem were expecting someone who could liberate the people of Israel from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. For those expecting this kind of savior, Jesus’ death at the hands of Romans meant He lost. He had no political or military might. He was a suffering servant who came to liberate us from sin, hatred, greed and ultimately death. This was not the kind of Messiah that most of Jesus’ followers expected or wanted. As a result, they deserted Him when they perceived He was defeated.

If I am honest with myself, I must admit that when it comes to following Jesus I can be a bandwagon jumper or fairweather fan. I suspect I am not the only one. It is fitting that in the liturgy for Palm Sunday, we begin by waving palms, acclaiming Jesus as king and finish by shouting for Him to be crucified during the Gospel. At times we wear the label “Christian” or “Catholic” as a badge of honor. When things get difficult, however, we can desert Jesus. We are bandwagon jumpers when:
  • We conveniently ignore certain teachings of Jesus, like substantially sharing our money and goods with the poor
  • Pretend that hard commandments like forgiving those who harm us and loving our enemy are more like suggestions
  • Expect Jesus to be the kind of Messiah who removes all difficulties and pain from our life
  • We stop praying or going to Mass when life becomes too busy

Though the readings are full of people who desert Jesus, we also find incredible examples of fidelity. We hear about the woman who anoints Jesus with oil from an alabaster jar in spite of being ridiculed by those around her. We find a group of women who watched the crucifixion from a distance: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They could not comprehend the tragedy they witnessed, yet they stood watch and prayed when Christ’s victory seemed impossible.

In our lives too, though we can turn our backs on Jesus, there are many other times that we are faithful. We struggle to pray when situations in our lives seem hopeless. We try to cope with suffering, trusting that Jesus walks with us. We continue struggling to overcome sinful habits even after many setbacks. We keep the faith, pray and go to Mass in a culture which is complacent at best and hostile at worst towards religion.

Palm Sunday is a time to honestly assess our situation. As followers of Jesus, none of us are diehard fans. At the same time, none of us are purely bandwagon jumpers. The most important message of Palm Sunday is that Jesus does not call us by any of these labels. Christ went to die on the Cross for love of those who denied Him and for love of those who remained faithful. He calls us all beloved. He calls us all friend. Above all, He calls each and everyone of us to greater fidelity.