Feeling out of place


"And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’"

—Matthew 21:10


One of the things I’ve enjoyed most in my years as a United Methodist minister has been watching the growth of the children and young people I’ve had the privilege of pastoring. It is so gratifying when, in adulthood, some tell me about my influence in their lives, about the difference my ministry made in helping them make good choices in life.

Thus, you will understand why I accepted an invitation to conduct the wedding ceremony for a young woman I once taught in children’s Sunday school. (My! Where does the time go?)

The child I taught had become a graduate of a prestigious university and a highly paid executive in the corporate world—at the age of 25.

Counseling sessions with the couple were completed, the afternoon wedding was spectacular, and the photographer finished all the picture-taking before the custodian turned out the lights. As I was leaving for home, the bride invited me to attend the reception that followed.

My first instinct was to quote my Bob Hayes’ truism on wedding receptions: "If you’ve seen one wedding reception, you’ve seen them all." Instead, caught up in the moment, I said, "Sure, I’ll come by for a few minutes."

When I walked in that door, it took me less than 10 seconds to know I was out of place.

Have you ever found yourself at a gathering where no one knows who you are? Most of the wedding celebrants knew the bride or the groom, but they surely didn’t know me.

Being amid people who don’t even know your name is, without a doubt, one of the loneliest experiences in life.

People stared at me. I felt like the "Star Trek" character Scotty had just "beamed" me there without a way back to my spaceship. I kept asking myself: Why did I come? How do I get out of here gracefully?

The average age in this group was about 25, making me feel more like a chaperone than the minister who performed the service. After enduring the stares for more than an hour, I left. All the way home, I considered: They probably had a real party as soon as the "old guy" left.

That experience, long faded, is now merely a humorous recollection.

But I know of another time when a person was deemed out of place, and the results were tragic.

This other instance about which I speak is the day our Lord rode into the city of Jerusalem and found himself surrounded by a crowd of people, painfully aware that few—if any—knew who he was.

He had spent three years of his life teaching, healing, preaching, and helping those he met. You would think those people would have known more about him, but on that day, sometimes called the happiest day of his life, many in the crowd were asking: "Who is this?"

It was the first Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. Jesus had come down from ministering in the hills surrounding the city, and in the excitement of the moment, his true identity and his true mission were misunderstood or unknown.

To some, his arrival was just another parade. To others, he was just another prophet in a long line of them.

To Jesus, this was his last chance to make himself known to those who needed him the most.

It is not surprising that Jesus went unnoticed and unknown to many. Even his disciples had trouble answering when he asked, "Who do men say that I am?" (Mark 8:27) They responded by repeating what others had said: John the Baptist. Elijah. One of the prophets.

Then Jesus asked the most important question anyone can answer: "Who do you say that I am?"

All my life I’ve heard and read that Scripture. Only now in the autumn of my life do I realize just how important it is. It is a question that cannot be evaded. There is no side door from which to exit its haunting answer.

Is Jesus a poetic idealist, a beautiful sentimental figure, a dear companion for the home and road, or the revealer of an intimate God who cares and loves us? Some have said he is all these things and more.

The number-one question staring back at us during these days of Lent is this: Who do you say this Jesus is?

Sit down today and answer this question! You and only you can say who and what Jesus is to you.

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