Crowds are powerful things. Whether it is travelling at rush hour, shopping in the sales, enjoying a festival, or attending a demonstration, crowds affect us. They undermine our individuality. They suck us into communal behaviour. When we are in a crowd, whether we like it of not, we become part of that crowd. This can be a wonderful experience (at a party, a concert or a festival); it can also be terrifying.
Jesus, it seems, had a remarkable resistance to the draw of mob mentality. Even when jostled and shoved by those tightly packed around him in ancient Palestine’s narrow streets, he was able to maintain his own focus and be attentive to unique individuals around him.
On one notable day, Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho with a crowd of excited Galileans, who wrongly believed that their hero was travelling to Jerusalem to proclaim himself as king of the Jewish people. Just as this animated crowd were squeezing their way through the city gates, Jesus stopped. Above all the noise of the crowd he had heard a voice calling out for help. The voice belonged to a blind beggar called Bartimaeus. Jesus talked with him, cured him of his blindness, reassured him of the high value of his faith in God, and then resumed his journey.
A few minutes later, when the same crowd was squashed into the tightly packed streets of the city, Jesus stopped for another needy individual in the crowd. This wasn’t a handicapped beggar, but one of the richest (and possibly loneliest) individuals in Jericho: the chief tax-collector, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus - a man famous for his finances, not his faith - was so keen to see Jesus that he climbed a tree to get a better look. Nobody else cared, but Jesus noticed, and invited himself to eat at Zacchaeus’ home.
I don’t know how Jesus picked out those two, contrasting, yet equally needy individuals from all the noise and bustle of that excited crowd. But he did. That’s the kind of person he was. That is what God is like.