The Mob went along…
“And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous[c] serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” (Numbers 21: 8-9)
“Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.”[a] They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all?[b] I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he,[c] and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.” (John 8: 22-30)
Lenten Prayer: Direct, we beseech thee, O Lord, all our actions by thy holy inspiration, and carry them on by thy gracious assistance so that every prayer and work of ours may begin always from thee and through thee be happily ended. Amen. Ora Pro Nobis.
The desire to atone. The misplaced way to do it. It’s why there are mobs. It’s what Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is based on: we know, from the image of God inside us, that something is wrong and it must be atoned. But how?
Without the Christ, this universal rejection and condemnation we feel – this self-loathing – and this need for atonement works itself out in perverse and often hideous ways. Threatening complaints targeted at a group or an individual often precede the perversity. Only God has the answer: the Son of Man who was rejected of men. Chesterton highlights the societal mechanism at work that drives us to the mob: it is the devil who instigates it, but it is our own perversity that drives it. You see it again today in the self-loathing of the young gathered in various political groups, who murderously reject the preceding generation and the fragile networks of our society. As the Salisbury Review recently observed: “[Rebels] often camouflage their moral corruption with the virtues of their idealistic mission.” This answer that God has provided, in the way that he has provided it – by rejecting Himself for us – is indeed, as Chesterton entitles his chapter, “the strangest story in the world”.
“The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men. – G. K. Chesterton, The Strangest Story in the World, The Everlasting Man, 1925.