Skit: Not Quite What I Expected
“I didn’t expect this!”
When we lived in Mount Isa, our eldest three children met the then prime minister, Bob Hawke. They met him, shook hands, talked to him, got his autograph, and came back to us saying, ‘Dad, he’s so short!’. The PM wasn’t what they expected.
Sometimes we don’t know what we expect – but whatever it was, the person we meet isn’t it. They maybe older or younger, taller or shorter, funnier or duller, and so on. Social media portray a version of a person but we can also discover that there’s a lot more behind the carefully digitised presentation. In our media saturated world we are increasingly aware of the tension between image and reality. Leadership manuals and tipsters are very much aware that aspiring leaders need to meet people’s expectations if they want to be considered a good leader. When I go into a new situation in a congregation or a new congregation I often ask, ‘What usually happens here?’ and I often do what usually happens or I may not but my starting point for thinking about what I should do is what the people are expecting.
Jesus was a popular leader after raising Lazarus from the dead. The people cheered him as he entered Jerusalem and even though he was riding a donkey rather than a horse or in a chariot, the people cheered the liberator who had arrived by waving palm branches – understood by some as victory and liberation. “Hosanna!” they cried, which means, “Save me, Lord”. But Jesus wasn’t what was expected – he didn’t kick the Romans out – he went and kicked out the money changers and animal traders from the temple precincts. In a few short days the people turned on him and Jesus ‘kicked out’ of the city onto a garbage dump and crucified.
Jesus mightn’t have been what people expected but he was what people needed. He was and is a king. He is a liberator who didn’t let others do the dirty work but who knew that only his actions as a perfect lamb, a sacrifice would actually liberate us so that we could truly live. Jesus points us to a God who isn’t what we expect for he is one who suffers for his creation.
Our lives are often not what we expect either. Fantine in ‘Les Miserables’ has been abandoned and is desperate to buy medicine for her sick daughter and so is forced to sell her possessions and finally herself sings:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
So many circumstances of this world happen to people – and yes, for many of us today – it is usually other people – we don’t have bombs, starvation, civil war, and violence on our doorsteps but we can imagine their cries, “Save me, Lord”. But, truth to tell, we still have our problems and worries – we know selfishness, vindictiveness, sickness, sorrow – we let ourselves down and we let others down and we too can cry, “Save me, Lord”.
Christians proclaim that God doesn’t sit on his hands. He helps us – truly in ways that we don’t expect. He helps us through words about the king crowned on a cross and his empty tomb and the defeat of the power of death. He helps us through water which brings new birth and a daily rising to new life each day so we can face our sin squarely in repentance and work to make amends and the lives of the people around us better in all sorts of ways. He helps us through bread and wine in which the King physically comes to us and gives us healing, forgiveness, and salvation.
All this help is sometimes dramatic but usually it’s nondescript, almost hidden – we don’t see Jesus with our eyes – yet our faith is revived and our hope is strengthened – as Jesus rides into our lives.
And the followers of Jesus discover and learn to live – never perfectly – courageous lives prepared to face what we expect and the unexpected with a peace that is beyond this world’s understanding because it rests in the King riding a donkey, enthroned on a cross, confident in the face of death, and who is with us every step of the way.