Dismissing the crowds (Robert Harrison)

Monday, 14 December, 2009

Robert HarrisonRobert Harrison reflects on Jesus dismissing the crowds.

December is a time when we prepare to meet the needs of the crowds who flock to the Christian story over Christmas. It's relatively easy to get a crowd over Christmas, and so often have I asked myself: 'How can I keep this crowd? How can I entice these people to come back to church more often?' Equally often I have looked at the numbers entered into the service register with a contented smile on my face.

I have not been thinking like Jesus.

Jesus welcomed the crowds, he taught them and he healed them, but then he dismissed them. He never invited them back or suggested that they return to him. He sent them away and got back to the important task of teaching and training his disciples, trusting the crowds to God.

After being told by the Pharisees that he was attracting a bigger crowd then John the Baptist (John 4), Jesus left the area - I would have stayed for more 'success'. After the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6), Jesus dismissed the crowd, and moved on - I would have been on that same hillside the next week and the week after, while the crowd slowly dwindled.

We need to sit lightly to the crowds and resist being seduced by rising numbers

Wherever it is that we welcome our crowds this Christmas, we must remember to dismiss them afterwards. It is not in the example of Jesus to try to hold onto them. If our mission-shaped church is to have a Jesus-shaped mission, we need to sit lightly to the crowds, and resist being seduced by rising numbers. Yes, we must welcome the crowds and teach them. But we must also dismiss them.

That leaves the question: what do we do with these crowds when they are with us? In a Jesus-shaped mission, we will tell them stories - wild stories, crazy stories, funny stories, but stories that are laced with the 100% proof love of God - and then dismiss them. In a Jesus-shaped mission we will send them back to their homes, not with answers but with questions, not with understanding in their heads but with the love of God in their hearts. And, finally - if we really want to be like Jesus - we will do so without ever asking them to come back.

About the author: 

Revd Robert Harrison is vicar of St John's Hillingdon.


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