When Donald Trump announced his plans to run for President to some close friends, just before the Christmas of 2013, they thought he was crazy. He didn’t want to spend a lot of money on ads and ground crew, and he didn’t want to spend too much time visiting the small town meetings and pizza joints. He just wanted to maximize his influence with mass media and let it carry the day. “I’m going to walk away with it and win it outright,” Trump said. “I’m going to get in and all the polls are going to go crazy. I’m going to suck all the oxygen out of the room. I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off of me.”[mfn]Eli Stokols and Ben Shreckinger. 2016. “How Trump Did it.” Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/02/how-donald-trump-did-it-213581[/mfn]
Despite all the prognostications of him coming up short, and recent predictions of pending impeachment, Trump was spot on in assessing how he could gain and leverage attention to his advantage. While Trump used his influence to win the Presidency, everyday, millions of us try to create influence, to move our cause forward. Bands share music videos to entertain potential fans, businesses create ads to entice new customers, and individuals doctor selfies to get the most likes. We all do it; Trump just took it to the extreme.
Considering these examples of how influence grows makes the actions of Jesus all the more puzzling. In preparing to launch a worldwide movement, he seemed to break all the rules. He starts by aging a little H2O into a fine wine at the pour of a glass. After that, he makes a spectacle in the temple by committing the cardinal sin of ministry leadership: he rearranges the church furniture. (Many pastors lose their jobs for attempting this!) Then he seems to hint that he could complete the decades long temple restoration as a weekend project. These attention getters seem like the kind of actions where one would want to control the news cycle. But instead of capitalizing on these opportunities by highlighting the positives and downplaying the less savory moments, Jesus does quite the opposite.
The first indication that Jesus embraces a different leadership paradigm than most is how he looks at the issue of “timing.” So much of our world is “time-sensitive.” We regularly navigate through on-call work shifts, last-minute travel plans and instant communication. Jesus took a much different approach. When Mary addressed him about the pressing issue of a refreshment shortage at a wedding party, he was ready to ignore it entirely. “Woman,” he said to his mother (that’s a culturally-sensitive phrase; I don’t advise you to address your mother that way!) “This does not concern me. My time has not yet come.”
If Jesus had his way, there would be no water into wine story. Jesus was perfectly fine letting the party go dry. Why? Because it wasn’t his time, and he wasn’t going to rush it. He was willing to “miss his shot” and wait for another chance. He was only in tune with his Father’s time and rhythm, and he wouldn’t let the demands of a misguided world dictate how he lived.
How different this is from what we so often hear today. The secret to creating influence is working frenetically and being available at a moment’s notice to take advantage of success. You don’t turn down good offers that come your way, and you don’t shy away when opportunities knocks; what if they never come back? The time to act is always now. Jesus, however, resists living this way. While he does honor his mother’s request, the interest of Jesus is not creating as much success as possible, but being in step with his Father’s prompting.
Secret Secrets are No Fun
After establishing himself as a master mixologist with his favor to Mary, Jesus has a rather puzzling follow-up act: nothing. Jesus doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t ask the master of the ceremonies how he likes the drink. He doesn’t create a legendary Vine or even post a humble brag on Facebook…he doesn’t say a word. Not even a tweet. How is that going to gain him a following?
In fact, the only people that know about this is the servants who poured the water, and the disciples who were with Jesus at the time. In addition, John’s gospel alone shares this story, and he probably wrote it after the others. This means that Jesus kept this secret so well, that it was decades after he was gone before the story finally leaked to the public. Apparently, it just wasn’t something they talked about a lot, if at all.
When John says that Jesus did not “entrust himself to man” it means he didn’t have faith in their opinions about him, or their ability to know what was best for him. So, he did not care what they thought of him either. Few things demonstrate this more than a moment like this, one that Jesus could easily share to gain some deserved attention and public praise. It’s not like Jesus intent was bad; he was just obeying his mother after all. Why not get some props for it? But his sole concern was his identity in the Father and his designated course according to that. He had no interest in getting distracted from this priority.
Have You Lost Your Mind?
From the wedding feast, Jesus goes to visit the temple (the center of Jewish life), during passover (the central feast in the Jewish year.) Here he witnesses the regular commercial trading of the passover season, but he becomes unglued over it. Without a prompting, Jesus does decide to act: “Making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen.”
Take that in for a moment. Jesus actually has enough time to think about what he is doing to stop and create a weapon to aid his disruption. This is the rough equivalent of purchasing a helmet before returning to a street fight. Except it happened in church. When John notes this, the explanation he offers is the old testament scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” In other words, this is prophetic. It is scriptural confirmation of Jesus identity as the Son of God. Yet I don’t ever recall walking into a church lobby with a picture of Jesus and his whip hanging over the welcome center. Why not?
Besides not wanting to scare the children, maybe we just aren’t comfortable with what it is that truly drives Jesus. We often bind ourselves to social convention, fixate on outward appearances, and cast judgment based on external results. And Jesus wasn’t that way. He wasn’t embarrassed about this incident and neither were his followers. All 4 gospels share this story, without apology. They knew Jesus wasn’t worried about how this would impact his influence on the masses, because their attention was not what he was after.
From the Inside Out
In the end, Jesus wasn’t interested in the normal methods of creating influence, or in an ordinary kind of influence. He wasn’t interested in gaining and keeping the spotlight on himself, or in increasing his approval rating. He wanted to move the hearts of the people in only one direction: back to the Father. As he kept his focus on this calling, delighting in the relationship with his Father, the issue of influence took care of itself.
Parker Palmer highlights the results that come when we seek to build influence by following external cues, even noble ones, instead of the inner voice of the Father. “I lined up the loftiest ideals I could find,” Palmer says, “and set out to achieve them. The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque. But always, they were unreal, a distortion of my true self– as must be the case when one lives from the outside in, not the inside out.”[mfn]Palmer, Parker. Let your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. (San Francisco: Josey Bass, 2000.), 3.[/mfn]
This was the secret of Jesus’ influence as well. He never lost site of his identity as the Son of God. He never let the rewards of public approval entice him to steal the spotlight. And he wasn’t afraid to incur the wrath of public opinion to stand against injustice. Jesus was absolutely secure in who the Father had made and called him to be. He lived the authentic calling of his life from the inside out.
For Prayer & Reflection
Take some time to respond to God about the passage and primer you just read. Read through John 2 again, and let these questions help guide your prayer time.
- What about these examples of Jesus is encouraging to you? What about them is unsettling?
- Which of these practices of Jesus is most difficult for you: Trust in God’s timing? Secrecy about your service? Standing against injustice?
- How would I live my life, if I did not entrust myself to the opinions of others? How would my life look different if I lived it from the “inside out?”