Defying Expectations

Published by DonDavidson on

Psychologists and trial lawyers are familiar with the concept that people often see what they expect to see. Here’s a story that illustrates that idea.

After World War II, Berlin was divided between East Berlin, controlled by communist East Germany, and West Berlin, which was free. In 1961, in order to stop people from fleeing to West Berlin from East Berlin, the East German government erected the Berlin wall. People could legally and safely go from East to West, or West to East, only at three guarded checkpoints. Smuggling in either direction was of course prohibited. A very successful smuggler rode a bicycle from West Berlin to East Berlin frequently. When doing so, he always carried a bag of sand on the back of his bicycle. The guards at the checkpoint would open the bag of sand and carefully search through it. Finding nothing, they would let him pass. The guards never realized that the guy was smuggling bicycles.

When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth, he read the beginning of Isaiah 61, which is a Messianic prophecy—meaning that it is a prophecy about the Messiah. (Luke 4:16-19) So imagine the shock of the people in that Nazareth synagogue when Jesus told them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was announcing to them that he was the Messiah. That was not what they were expecting, and it didn’t go over well, especially when Jesus declined to do any miracles for them. Luke tells us that the people of Nazareth were “furious” with him—so much so that they took him to a cliff in order to throw him over it. Cooler heads must have prevailed, because Luke assures us that “He passed through their midst and went on His way.” (Luke 4:30)

The people of Nazareth didn’t expect the Messiah to be one of their own—that is surely the implication of their question in Luke 4:22: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Jesus wasn’t exactly what the disciples of John the Baptist expected, either. After all, Jesus and his disciples didn’t fast like they did. So they asked him why not. Jesus merely said that his disciples could fast later, after he was gone. He refused to conform to their expectations.

However, the greatest contrast between expectations and reality had to be with the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus was not at all what they expected the Messiah to be—or even what a prophet should be.

Jesus defied the religious leaders’ expectations by associating with sinners and tax collectors—indeed, he even made a tax collector one of his dozen chief followers.  

Jesus forgave sins, which the religious leaders insisted only God can do. They were right, by the way. I can only forgive you for your sins against me—I can’t forgive you for sinning against other people, or for sinning against God. Only God can do that. Of course, the religious leaders did not expect God to come as a man, so they regarded what Jesus did as blasphemy.

The religious leaders did not expect the Messiah to do things that they believed violated the Sabbath, such as healing on the Sabbath or letting his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath. So imagine how taken aback they must have been when Jesus announced that he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8) Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because Matthew 12:14 says that “the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”

Jesus and his disciples didn’t honor the religious tradition that required Jews to ceremonially wash their hands before eating. When the Pharisees confronted him about this, he turned the tables on them by accusing them of prioritizing their traditions above God’s Law. And then he stated, very publicly, that “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11) When his disciples pointed out to Jesus that he had offended the Pharisees, he didn’t care: “Leave them; they are blind guides.” (Matthew 15:14)

The religious leaders didn’t expect the Messiah to create havoc in the Temple by overturning the tables of the money changers and driving out the merchants.

On the other hand, I’m sure they expected the Messiah to give them the respect they felt they deserved. Instead, Jesus publicly denounced them as “blind guides” and “vipers,” accused them of being wicked, and repeatedly called them “hypocrites.” (Matthew 23:13-33)

Is it any wonder that the Pharisees accused Jesus of driving out demons “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons”? (Matthew 12:24) They expected a man of God to be something else entirely.


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