Ronald Heifetz may have been talking about Jesus when he said, “Leadership is often a matter of failing people’s expectations at a rate they can stand.” Think about it, for the Jews of Jesus’s day, they had pretty clear expectations about who their messiah would be! A warrior who would bring political power back to Jews; a judge who would bring ethical, moral, and religious truth to an unfaithful world; but a peaceful servant-leader? Jesus’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey was certainly failing people’s expectations, but perhaps not at a rate they stand!
From Jesus’s birth to his baptism and ministry, his work was always about teaching, healing, and reconciliation to God. Forcing people to follow or coercing them to take a side wasn’t Jesus’s approach. Rather, when the disciples are called, he invites them, “Come follow me”; when he sees someone who is sick he asks, “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus sees people’s faith, and Jesus’s word casts out demons and heals the sick. What is gentler or more powerful that words spoken in truth? It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this allegory, four children prepare to meet Aslan, a lion who represents the Christ figure in the book:
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The servant-leader, King Jesus, riding into the Holy City, Jerusalem on a donkey is a surprising sight. It fails people’s expectations and challenges us to seek God’s vision for the world. A vision that teaches us that peace triumphs over hate and violence. A vision that teaches us that love ought to guide our decisions. A vision that shows us that gentleness and humility have more power than all the armies and war toys of history.
I invite you to join the crowd’s ruckus, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is our surprising King! Our Messiah! Watch carefully, listen intently—become like this King, become like Jesus.