The Power of Public Opinion

Note: The Lectio Divina based devotion below follows a Lenten journey called “By His Side.”  The order for daily scriptures throughout Lent comes from “Praying with Passion,” by Ken Taylor. The daily scriptures chronologically follow the passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the crucifixion. I focus on a particular word or phrase from the day’s reading and meditate on what the passage says about Christ, what it says about human nature, what it says about our relationship with Christ and others, and what I sense God is calling me to do, refrain from doing, or be mindful of as I seek to follow Christ “by his side.” 

Lectio: Matthew 27:15-18  (NRSV)15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called JesusBarabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, JesusBarabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

Contemplation: “anyone they wanted”

Meditation: Reinhold Niebuhr in his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, wrote: “All social cooperation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion.” By that he meant that moral people are more likely to act immorally as members of a group than as individuals.

Individuals in the crowd that requested the release of Barabbas over Jesus must have personally and morally disagreed with the choice, but they could not escape the powerful influence of the crowd herd moving in favor of releasing Barabbas instead of Jesus. Like a brushfire buffeted by strong winds, the public opinion of Jesus that just a few short days ago during Palm Sunday was exuberant, now quickly turns against him. His favorability dramatically drops in general popularity overnight. The leaders that wanted Jesus killed must have had a good messaging strategy to turn the crowd against him in such a short time. 

Today, I meditate on the powerful influence of popular public opinion on an individual and society. Influencers and analysts are always presenting public opinion, brushfire, tracking, quota-sampling, and straw polling results that measure the public’s perceptions, attitudes, and opinions of public figures and issues. Polling results are analyzed by pollsters that interpret their implication. The pollsters develop messaging strategies to affect people’s understandings of the issues. Authorative experts are strategically brought in to push people toward favoring the desired political, economic, and social outcome of a party or organization. Public opinion polls and the way they are interpreted and messaged weild a great influence on the direction of a community, a nation, and the world. Sometimes, societies are coerced by public opinion polls and strategic messaging that lead to immoral actions and disasterous consequences. 

Prayer: Today I pray for the grace to self-differentiate.

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