The man moved slowly toward me on the sidewalk, then paused, the small creature on the end of the leash he held dwarfed by the man’s size. I walked toward them to pass, smiling at the duo. But as I neared, the creature’s eyes caught my attention. Yellow with vertical black slits for pupils—the eyes of a cat, not the typical brown eyes and round pupils of a dog.
I don’t find it easy to read a cat’s face, but to my eye, she looked out of place and uncertain, her usual independence and majesty stolen by the harness around her body. Maybe there are good reasons for someone to walk their cat. Quite possibly he even wanted to enrich her life. But watching the small creature, I felt like weeping as her beautiful self was treated like something she is not, harnessed and leashed to a set of expectations that were shaped for a creature with different instincts and personality.
Expectations—even our own, and even those laid on with good intention—when not rooted in a true understanding of how God has made us and what he calls us to, can confine and confuse and make us less than we are.
Jesus, more than most, knows the harm of false presumptions and expectations. He lived with misunderstanding his whole life, from those who knew him well and those who didn’t.
Crowds seldom understood his parables.
His family tried to remove him from his ministry because they thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21).
Religious leaders called him Beelzebul—another name for Satan (Matt 10:25; 12:24).
Befriending the people who needed him most, observers called him a glutton and a drunk (Matt 11:19).
His disciples, living with him day after day and seeking to learn from him, repeatedly failed to understand his calling. At times, Jesus recognized that Satan was using even his closest friends to tempt him away from his God-given calling (Matt 16:23).
Those around him firmly believed that the vocation of Messiah consisted of freeing them from the Romans. Jesus’ refusal to conform to their (misguided) expectations eventually led to his death. Even as he hung on the cross, every taunt revealed the depth of misunderstanding of those flinging it.
“You who are going to destroy the temple and build it again in three days, save yourself!” passersby shouted as he hung on the cross (Matt 27:40).
Oh, Jesus, it was through the choice not to save yourself that the temple of your body was going to be destroyed, and then, in confirmation that your sacrifice had been accepted and death was conquered, raised up.
“Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matt 27:40).
You could easily have come down, but you stayed on the cross because you are the Son of God, and you alone could love us there the way we needed to be loved.
It wasn’t just the passersby who didn’t understand. The religious leaders who had been closely observing and questioning him didn’t get it either. “He saved others,” they said, “But he can’t save himself” (v. 41-42).
You were saving others through not saving yourself!
“He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (v. 42).
Oh, Jesus, they couldn’t believe in you—not in the way we all need—if you had come down from the cross then. They might have believed in your power, but they wouldn’t have seen your love, a love strong enough to stay on that cross to set us free.
“He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (v. 43).
There’s that tricky little word again: now. You trusted in your Father far more than to demand a rescue from your suffering “now.” You trusted his timing, trusted him not merely to rescue you out of your suffering, but to carry you through it, and rescue us along with you.
How those words, “if he wants him,” must have stung! Of course He wanted you, His beloved Son. But He wanted all his other sons and daughters, too, in spite of our rebellion. You wanted us too. And so you trusted Him. And he trusted you to trust him and to partner with him in his work in the world.
The Calling—And the Hope
As I watch Jesus following his vocation to its end (which went through the cross, but did not end there, thank God!), I’m challenged to keep listening to God’s heartbeat. What is God calling me to? Where do I hear him speaking to me, inviting me to be still and listen, and to live his love in the world?
For me, lately, his call seems less about whether I’ll do something, than how. At his invitation, I am putting a book out into the world. After a dozen years of work, it is months away from reality. But how will I live this season? Will I trust God’s timing in the details? Will I choose to keep living the deep, listening life I’m called to in the midst of the world’s expectations that an author find more and more ways to get the word out about the book? Will I listen for how God is calling me to faithfully share what has been entrusted to me for others while also faithfully stewarding the body and soul and relationships with God and others that God has equally entrusted to me?
For Jesus too, perhaps the temptation was less whether he would do or be something, than how (though the two were inextricably entwined). He had, with his Father, created the world and its people. The right to rule was his. But would he take the shortcut Satan offered, the pushy, flashy way to bypass suffering and assert power? Or would he keep listening to his Father’s heartbeat, letting his own heart beat with the fierce yet gentle and humble love that lay at the center of his calling? He could not have revealed God’s heart to the world had he tried to do it the world’s way.
Lately, I’ve been savoring the wise and gorgeous website, The Cultivating Project. This season, their theme is “staking,” and the eight deeply insightful questions Lancia asks are challenging me to ponder what in my life is worth staking boundaries around and claiming in public, and what holds me back. “What do you fear about staking in your own life? . . . What is the connection of staking with abiding? With being brave? With being beloved?”
Jesus, against all the misguided expectations of those around, stood firm in his unique identity and vocation, and in his deep trust that his Father would bring him, and us with him, safely through death into life and love everlasting. He was staked for his claim. But his Father did not fail. So we, too, can now stake our trust on the One who loves us and who calls us his own.