So I got my first ear piercing yesterday (a small cross in my left ear; see the pic at left). My wife got her third piercings done the day before, and as we were talking about me getting mine done (what I would get, whether or not it’s even a good idea, and so on), we hit upon the subject of people’s expectations. Southern culture in general has a lot of expectations about what a man does and does not look like, and things get even more complex when you throw in the fact that I’m a pastor as well. Being the pondering person that I am, this got me to thinking. There are a lot of expectations that we all have to deal with as we go through our lives, some of which are good and others not so much. For example, society expects that when we see the posted speed limit while out driving, we won’t exceed it. In return, we can expect to get a ticket if we’re caught by the police while exceeding it. Personally, I don’t have an issue with expectations like that one. There are, however, other expectations that we all face from time to time, expectations regarding far more personal aspects of our lives. We come up against expectations regarding who we’ll become, how we’ll look, who we’ll marry, where we’ll live, and so many more; expectations that, if we’re not careful in how we respond to them, can turn us into people we never wanted to become. How then do we respond to these expectations? Perhaps a better question is how should we respond to these expectations? While it may not be possible to live up to these expectations without losing ourselves in the process, those who hold these expectations can often be those closest to us, and the last thing we want to do is hurt them. How do we manage these expectations in a respectful way?
As a Christian, I find it useful to look at how Jesus handled similar issues. As Scripture shows us, Jesus dealt with expectations regarding all areas of His life. People had expectations of Him as Messiah, to be sure, but those closest to Him also had expectations of Him as well. In Mark 3, for example, we’re told in verses 31-35 of a time when Jesus’ mother and brothers showed up while He was preaching: “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.'” The expectation, obviously enough, is that He will drop what He’s doing and come see what they want. (Skipping back to verse 21 tells us why they’re there; they think He’s nuts and they’ve come to take Him home.) His reaction, however, is not what we would expect: “And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’ Instead of meeting their expectation, He in essence redefines their relationship. (Now before you go thinking this is an excuse to hurt those closest to you, remember how Jesus cared for His mother during His crucifixion. As John 19:26 tells us, He was very much concerned for her welfare. In short, even though He did not meet their expectation on this occasion, He did not stop caring about His earthly family.)
Another example of Jesus dealing with expectations of others comes in John 21. Here we read of Him appearing to His disciples following the resurrection, and what we read is not what we would expect (for me at least). There are no heavenly trumpets, no angels shouting in victory, no glorious appearing, just Jesus by the seashore with His friends. Neither does He come to them as King demanding worship; rather, He plays a prank on them, recreating a miracle while they do not realize it is Him. (He is so wondrously human here; this is one of my favourite Scripture stories.)
I could go on and on and on. The point is that Jesus is Himself. He is unfailingly, unflinchingly, gloriously and wholly Himself. As He tells us in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” His relationship with His Father defined everything about who He was, and, secure in that knowledge, He could be Himself. Furthermore, that relationship meant He could manage the expectations of those around Him without hurting them and without losing who He was. The scandalous truth of the Gospel is that we have that same relationship now. We get the same access Jesus has. If we are secure in that relationship, we get to be ourselves, too. We can respond to the expectations of others has He did, not breaking off the relationship but not giving in to the expectation, either.
I have had many people ask me why I got my ear pierced yesterday (and I expect I’ll get many more questions in the days to come). The truth is, this whole post is the reason why. I like the way I look with it pierced (and I don’t think Jesus minds one bit), and if me living in the freedom of that relationship allows you to do the same, then as a minister of the Gospel I’ve done my part. What freedom is He leading you into today?