In the bible there are some stories of Jesus being a little ‘popular’ at times, but some, if not most of the time being rather ‘unpopular’. Just at moments when Jesus seemed to gain a mass following, and becoming well known, he moved on to somewhere else and other people, preferring to shun fame and popularity.
Here is one such story from the Gospel of Mark: 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.
If you were to read through the New Testament you would find rather a lot of occasions when Jesus’ actions seemed to disappoint people rather than please people, for example:
*He disappointed his family to the point where his mother and siblings wondered if he had gone quite mad.
*He disappointed the people he grew up with in Nazareth. When Jesus declared who he really was – the
Messiah – they tried to push him off a cliff.
*He disappointed his closest friends, the twelve disciples. They projected onto Jesus their own picture of the kind of Messiah they expected him to be. When he failed to meet their expectations, they quit on him.
*He disappointed the crowds. They wanted an earthly Messiah who would feed them, fix all their problems, overthrow the Roman oppressors, work miracles, and give inspiring sermons. They walked away from him.
*He disappointed the religious leaders. They did not appreciate the disruption his presence brought to their day to day lives or to their theology. They finally attributed his power to demons and had him crucified.
Why would Jesus walk away from the crowds he was trying to teach and reach?
Why did he place importance on being on his own, not always being with other people?
Why did he not do what people wanted him to do and instead what he wanted to do?
There is a lot I would say in specific answer to these, but overall it was because first, Jesus wanted to do what pleased God not human beings; and second, to do what was right and for the best in the long term instead of the short term. If you read the stories about Jesus you can see lots of examples, for example:
-listening to God in prayer rather than listening to the voices of people and the world;
-not affirming everyone or everything around him, but often disturbing and challenging people to change;
-focusing on our most important need, which is for forgiveness, not just our physical needs.
In summary, what we see in Jesus was a Love that didn’t always say or do what people wanted of him, or always ‘affirmed them, but a love that addressed what they needed. And how might we see and hear what it is we need from God and Jesus? Well over Lent, it is a special time given to us when we can re-focus and reflect on what God wants us to know is most important in life. It is a time to think about what human things might need ‘to die in us’ so that the important things might ‘live in us’ and we might ‘live in God’.
So, as we enter Lent, my prayer is that you might find some time to think, reflect and pray on what might need to die so that more important things might live.
Revd James Hunt – St Peter’s, Bishop’s Waltham and Blessed Mary, Upham
31st March 2023