“A huge crowd…trailed after them… swarms of people who had heard the reports and had come to see for themselves. He told his disciples to get a boat ready so he wouldn’t be trampled by the crowd… Now everyone who had something wrong was pushing and shoving to get near and touch him” (Mark 3:7-10 The Message).
The 91st PGA Championship was held this past week only 12 miles from my doorstep at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. As a huge golf fan this was reason for excitement. I even went a bit out of my way to drive past the course all week to and from work to feel a bit closer to all the fanfare. I was proud of the enthusiastic support we Minnesota golf fans showed this week. In fact, the enormous mobs that showed up to cheer on the players was one of the ongoing stories of the tournament.
There were reports saying the fairways were lined already early Monday morning as Tiger Woods played some practice holes. Monday morning! Practice rounds! Yes, throngs of Tiger admirers pushed and shoved their way through the hoards all week, trying to catch a glimpse of Tiger in all his glory working his many wonders. I wish I could have been there to join the masses oohing and awing over this awe-inspiring golf god. (In hindsight Tiger was neither present in all his glory nor working many wonders this particular weekend.)
After watching the crowds on the TV follow Tiger around for 4 days straight, hanging on his every move, admiring his masterful touch and mesmerized by his relentless determination to accomplish his mission and reach his goal, another crowd-drawing individual came to mind.
The Gospel reports of Jesus’ first century career boast of some pretty impressive, sizable crowds as well. Where ever Jesus is at and whatever he happens to be doing, you can usually find “the crowds” following behind and gawking from a distance. For instance:
“A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick” (John 6).
“Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him” (Mark 3).
“He wanted desperately to see Jesus, but the crowd was in his way—he was a short man and couldn’t see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up in a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus when he came by” (Luke 19).
“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt 9:36).
“And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side” (Matt 8:18).
Like Tiger many had heard all the hype, were blown away at the second-hand eyewitness testimonies of this man’s amazing abilities and wanted to see him “perform” his wonders live in person. At times the disciples had to serve as bodyguards and provide Jesus with the first-century equivalent to a private jet (“have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him”). People pushed forward to touch him, get his autograph and even a piece of his clothing: “In the crowd that day there was a woman… She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe” (Luke 8). A really eager vertically challenged fan even climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus as he walked past. So people came in throngs to see Jesus in action.
They came for many different reasons. Some came out of desperation for healing. Some came out of guilty in need of mercy and forgiveness. Some came to test him and trap him. Many simply came to see a good show and be entertained by his miraculous feats. Most were simply curious, had heard the rumors and saw that he was going to be in their town and there was no cost of admission. (Can you imagine how many more fans would have gone out to see Tiger Woods this weekend at Hazeltine if the tickets were FREE rather than $200 plus?!)
Can we take the Tiger/Jesus illustration step further? Let me try. The Gospels all report that large crowds followed Jesus. They also emphasize that very few left the onlooking crowds in order to become “disciples.” Discipleship involved commitment and strict training in the ways of the rabbi or master teacher. There is a world of difference between a curious onlooker and a disciple, between a fan and a follower.
Similarly, you would find two very different types of people following Tiger Woods around on the golf course this weekend. On the one hand, you have your casual sports fan with some extra cash to spend or group discount tickets from the office to capitalize on. Fathers with their kids. Group of guys with their beers. These are your typical fans out for a good time and some thrilling entertainment.
On the other hand, you will find a smaller, more passionate guild of fellow golfers — bright-eyed beginners, young amateurs, golf club members, club pros and others — who are students of the game, committed to improving their game, learning from the pros and watching Tiger’s every move so as to imitate him the next time they tee it up. This group of golf fans does not desire golf entertainment but player participation in this great sport.
Jesus and Tiger both have their casual onlookers just out for a good time, looking to be entertained and awed by a show of great power and ability. They both have their devout admirers and disciples who follow their every move, study their every stroke, learn from their example and imitate them when they’re on their own.
While we can find some interesting parallels between the crowds of both Tiger Woods and Jesus Christ, there really is little to compare when it comes to the ultimate importance of each person’s particular area of expertise. Tiger is the master of the game of golf — a great game of skill and determination but a game nonetheless. Jesus stands alone in human history as the great master of human living — the perfect image of God and second Adam who God sent to earth to show the world the way to both “abundant life” now (John 10:10) and eternal life hereafter (John 3:16).
May we always be more than curious onlookers and casual spectators in the game of life and the art of Christian discipleship. And may we press forward through the crowds which constantly surround Jesus in order to fall at his feet asking not for an autograph but forgiveness and the abundant life that only Christ can give!