Expectations do one thing: set us up for disappointment.
How many children pout under a Christmas tree strewn with the cast off remnants of prettily wrapped packages? I’ve been one of those children, surrounded by gifts in all shapes and sizes, but lacking that ONE thing I was sure I needed in order to continue my existence on the planet.
One year, I begged and plotted and pleaded for these must-have, fashion forward red booties. (They weren’t called that in the 80s; I think we called them ankle boots?) They had a heel, and they were red. Did I mention that already. Red ankle boots with a heel. I was sure they would provide me an entree to the most powerful social circles at Moon Area Junior High. I was certain that having my tender young feet wrapped in faux leather and a plastic heel would ensure the escalation of my hip factor by exponents. (I don’t even know what that means.)
And guess what? I got them. Guess what else? I was not catapulted into the prom queen elite. I did not ascend great heights, except for the inch and a half of heel. I was still me. Worse, yet, I was me, with red boots, and nothing cool to wear with them.
I’m reading a book my friend Ed Cyzewski co-authored with Derek Cooper called Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus, in which we examine those who did not cast down their fishing nets to follow Jesus to see what they can teach us. And would you be surprised to know that they can teach us stuff? Good stuff?
For instance, today, I read this:
The Jewish people in the audience of John the Baptists and Jesus didn’t just expect a messiah who would rule as king; they expected nothing less than the dramatic, world-changing return of God to rule as king…. They gave their lives to this work [the study of scripture and obedience]. They studied the law so they would receive the Messiah with open arms.
Guess what? The Messiah they got did not fit their idea of the Messiah they expected. As the authors put it:
After years of waiting and studying the Scriptures, the religious leaders of Israel conspired to kill Jesus.
My red boots fell woefully short of the stratospheric heights of social approbation I had so desired. I did not, however, plot to overthrow them and their space in the my sparse wardrobe. I dealt with it.
The Pharisees and Jesus had much higher stakes, of course. Jesus’ failure, as it were, to match their desires would lead to the forty desert days, and the crown of thorns. Their disappointment resulted in torn flesh and bloody sweat and sour wine and death. The Pharisees saw their entire world view, a concrete foundation they had built, cracked apart.
Thankfully, that is not the end of the story, but that is where we are in Lent. Christmas expectation is fun; it is about a sweet (and I like to imagine fat) little baby. Lent expectation is somber. We know what is coming, we who have the Pharisee’s example. And still we are asked to walk through desert days, and I would argue to challenge our expectations of this Messiah we had expected.
What do you expect from your Messiah?