Acts 14 records an incident that sounds almost impossible to believe. While preaching in Lystra, Paul noticed a man who had been unable to walk since birth. So he miraculously healed him in front of the crowd. Luke tells us, “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people.”
Paul was, of course, horrified and tried to get the audience to realize that it was Jesus, not he, who had healed the man. Yet, even with these words, “they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.”
Then, in the very next line, Acts suddenly tells us: “But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.”
Can a crowd really be that mercurial? It’s the same question some skeptics of the gospel accounts have in reading the Passion narrative. How do you get from “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday to “Crucify!” in five short days?
I think Pfc. Jessica Lynch might know. Private Lynch was, as we recall, the soldier taken prisoner during Gulf War II and rescued by a courageous group of heroes. Once rescued, morale-boosting stories of her heroism under fire were spread all over the media. She was what every good war effort needs: a plucky hero. And so we were flooded with a tale of a gutsy West Virginia girl who went down with guns blazing. She was beloved… until she got a chance to tell her story and set the record straight.
She told ABC News there was no reason for her rescue from an Iraqi hospital to be filmed. She stated, “They used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff,” adding, “Yeah, it’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed it, or why they say the things” they said.
Lynch made clear her complaint was not about her rescuers: “They’re the ones that came in to rescue me,” she said. “I’m so thankful that they did what they did; they risked their lives. … They are my heroes.” But she did make clear, apparently out of desire to simply be honest, that the stories of her capture by Iraqis, which suggested she had heroically gone down blasting away at the enemy, were untrue.
“My weapon did jam and I did not shoot, not a round, nothing,” she said simply.
One would think there could only be something to admire in this sort of self-effacing honesty from a young girl who courageously set out to serve her country, and who endured injury, rape and the risk of death on our behalf. But the reaction among some war supporters was breathtaking. The next day, on Lucianne.com (http://www.lucianne.com/threads2.asp?artnum=88336), a popular conservative news site, there were dozens of comments such as
- “Jessi, shut up. You’re going to end up with a bunch of money for all this, and if the needs of your country are met by concocting a story, and it doesn’t hurt you, what are you squawking about?”
- “What an ungrateful person she is. Maybe they should have just left her in the hospital with her Iraqi boyfriends.”
- “I cried when they rescued her, now she makes me sick!”
- “I think she’s an ungrateful little gutter-snipe. We should have let her rot there with her camel-loving friends.”
- “Let’s face it. She’s not the brightest bulb on the string.”
And there are about a hundred more such cruelties where those came from (though, to be fair, a small handful of courteous people did try to oppose the mob howling for her head by pointing out that “She should not have been in a combat zone but she was. We sent her there. She tried to fight. She was brutalized. She called her rescuers “her heroes”. The army or the press did propagandize the story” and so forth.) But the overwhelming majority of the reaction at Lucianne.com was appallingly nasty toward her.
Why? Because, like Jesus (who was supposed to be an earthly Davidic King and refused the role in order to be who he actually was) and Paul (who likewise insisted on being human and not a god), Jessica Lynch was never seen as a human person by her ex-adorers. She was made into a symbol of something, a means to an end, a sort of talisman or icon. She was pressed into an image and an agenda which demanded that she be, not human, but an Idol meeting a particular need for a National Myth and she chose instead to just be herself and speak the truth.
There’s still a very short distance from Palm Sunday to Good Friday for anybody who tells inconvenient truths about idols and false gods.