Last winter, Julie and I were lucky enough to spend a great weekend in Denver, Colorado. As we were looking for things to do in Denver, we were pleasantly surprised that one of our favorite bands would be playing in Denver while we were there, and we decided that we would go.
On the night of the concert we showed up at the theater cash in hand to buy tickets for the show, but the concert was sold out. We found ourselves quite literally left out in the cold on a snowy sidewalk on a January night in Denver.
I was ready to give up and turn around and find something else to do for the evening, but Julie wasn’t. She got in the will call line at the ticket window and waited her turn to ask the ticket agent if there were perhaps just two extra tickets for some out-of-towners who really liked the band. The person behind the glass was the theater’s promoter, but despite our best efforts—and more than a little begging—he wouldn’t let us in.
Julie still wasn’t done, though. We waited outside as the will call line died down and the last of the stragglers on the sidewalk trickled into the theater. We kind of shuffled into line behind the last people to walk inside and Julie offered cash to the doorman—the bouncer—to see if he would let us in, even without a ticket. I didn’t think there was any chance he would. But you know what? He did.
I don’t know if it was the extra cash or the way Julie batted her eyes at him, but the bouncer let us in. That experience got me thinking about how we exercise power and about the respective roles of the bouncer and the promoter at the theater that night.
We exercise authority and independent decision-making power by confounding expectations, by acting in ways that are contrary to our expected roles.
The promoter’s job was to get as many people as possible into the theater that night. So the only way for him to demonstrate his authority to make independent decisions was by choosing not to let people in. Julie and I were the perfect opportunity for him to display his power. And he did. He displayed his power by acting contrary to his role and not letting us in.
The bouncer’s job on the other hand was exactly the opposite. His job that night was to keep people out. No ticket, no entry. So the only way that he could exercise his authority and independence was by letting people in. So Julie and I were the perfect opportunity for him to display his power. And he did. He let us in.
There’s power in confounding expectations. There’s power in shedding labels that limit you. There’s power in exercising the independence to do the unexpected. That’s what Christ did during Holy Week.
The Palm Sunday crowds expected one thing, and Jesus gave them something completely different. It was a new idea of what power looks like. The crowds expected Jesus to bring political and economic and social power. But Jesus’ power was—and is—something entirely new.
So Jesus surprised a lot of people during that first Holy Week. And Jesus surprises a lot of us this Holy Week. There’s power in surprising people. There's power in confounding expectations.
This Easter, we have the chance to surprise some people, too. Chuck Colson, citing Barna Group research, says Americans think Christians are “judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual, too political, insensitive—and boring.”
If you’re like me, your natural response is to exclaim, “That’s not us at all!” Or to think, “If people just got to know us, they'd know we're not like that.” But the research goes further. It says that most Americans who have a negative opinion about Christians base their opinion on personal contacts with professing Christians.
So these days, more often than not, a personal relationship with a Christian is a barrier to a personal relationship with Christ. What an indictment!
Non-Christians are out there and they’re watching us. They're watching to see how we treat the waiter who messed up our order. They're watching to see what we post on Facebook. They're watching to see how we spend our money. They're watching to see how we spend our time. They see who we hang out with and what we do and what we say. They see which issues are most important to us. They see which issues we choose to ignore. And they’ve seen enough to form a negative opinion about us.
So what can we do this Easter? Maybe we can surprise some people. There’s power in shedding labels. There’s power in exercising our independence and authority. There's power in acting against the expectations of the crowd.
What if when people saw you, instead of the judgmentalism and hypocrisy they expected, they saw acceptance and authenticity and vulnerability?
What if when people watched you on Facebook they could answer without a doubt that you were a Christian, but were unsure which political party you supported?
What if people couldn’t help but describe you as compassionate and forgiving, selfless to a fault?
What if we were known for who we reached out to instead of for who we excluded? What if this Easter we were known for the things that Jesus was known for?
If we did all those things, people might stop describing us as boring. And they're right, by the way. Expected self-righteousness is boring. YAWN.
But unexpected authenticity, surprising generosity, is not.
What if we confounded their expectations? Well, then the people watching us--and they are watching us--might describe us as interesting or engaging, surprising even—maybe even as surprising as an empty tomb.
If there’s one thing we ought to remember this Holy Week, it’s that there’s power in confounding expectations.