Formations 03.24.2024: Anticipation versus Reality

Matthew 21:1-17

In my childhood, my best friend Jill and I spent many weekends together. One of our favorite ways to play involved imagining our adult lives. We especially enjoyed playing “apartment.” Jill’s house had an unfinished attic with a small collection of extra furniture, and we loved pretending to be young adults returning to our apartment after a day of work, ready for a fun night out with our “boyfriends.” For us, adulthood promised freedom, independence, and autonomy that we longed for as preteens.

Of course, when Jill and I finally reached adulthood, we understood that anticipation and reality are two different things. While adulthood brought freedom, it also brought responsibility: mortgages, car payments, student loan debt, jobs, relationships, childcare. We have struggled to fix broken marriages, felt helpless when our children suffered, and cared for aging parents. We are thankful for this life, but we appreciate its struggles more than we ever could as children.

Today’s story from Matthew highlights anticipation versus reality. Jesus, “the Son of David,” “the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” entered Jerusalem to fanfare, cheers, palm branches, and shouts of joy (v. 9). The people welcomed their long-anticipated Messiah to the city, fully expecting him to reorder their lives with strength and power and authority. But soon after Jesus entered the city, reality hit.

Instead of confronting the local powers and setting off a revolution, he went to their temple, their holy place, and dared to interrupt their way of life. By turning over the tables filled with merchandise (vv. 12-13), Jesus showed right away that the reality of his messianic role would upend the people’s expectations. Instead of applauding the money changers for their resourcefulness, he called them “robbers” who were corrupting the “house of prayer.”

That was the first of many instances when the reality of Jesus’s mission went against the people’s anticipation of a new ruler who would make life perfect for them. Jesus’s way offers freedom, independence, and autonomy. But it also requires responsibility, faithfulness, and humility. It is not the way of the powerful, the greedy, or the arrogant. It is the way of the faithful, the hopeful, and the loving. It is not an easy way, but it is the way to abundant life.

Discussion

• When have you anticipated something and been surprised or disappointed by reality when it finally happened?
• Has reality ever matched your anticipation?
• Like many of us, the people in Jesus’s day were hopeful for a new leader who would make their lives better. What do you think it was like for them to welcome Jesus to their city? Have you ever “caught” other people’s excitement about something?
• How was the reality of Jesus’s ministry different from what everyone anticipated?
• When the reality of a faithful life disappoints us, how can we renew our hearts and minds so we can be faithful, hopeful, and loving?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!

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